Side quest: Building a Town from scratch

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I'll start off with the background first.

I've been running a Dark Sun campaign for the last year or so every week. At one point the party met a PC who was trying to single-handedly build a city in a salt marsh [called New Erathis]. He was only intended to be a silly NPC who was forgetten 5 minutes later. Instead for the past few months whenever the PCs win some influence over merchants/NPCs they try to set up relationships that would benefit this town-to-be.

It only clicked to me recently - given that they're so keen to improve the town, and that Dark Sun has sectioned devoted to 'non-treasure rewards,' that I shoudl capitalise on their interest and try to make it a little more complex/rewarding/etc.

However, I've got no real idea how. I've only come to DnD in 4th ed, and I've heard the occasional whisper how in previous editions there were whole tracts devoted to 'rebuild the town' or 'start a city' or the like.

I was wondering in particular if anyone had:
1) Links to threads where someone else talks about building/improving towns
2) Ideas on how to show the town improving over time
3) Ideas on how to mechanically keep track of the improvements
4) Ideass on how to reward the PCs (perhaps using the 'favor' system suggest in the Dark Sun book) and when to reward them
5) Buy-ins I could use (eg: "The town is now under seige! Better go save it")
6) Anything else cool that springs to mind
A few folks here will suggest to ask your players for input. It's a good place to start. How do they want to build the town? What do they want out of building the town? Getting ideas from the players proper can lead you to ideas yourself, and allow you to improve upon their own goals to help give the story they're writing life.

Borrowing from movies, books and games is also a good step. Location settlement is a good topic for drama and adventurer, so there are bound to be plenty of things out there to draw ideas for source material from.

And of course, in an Athas game, there are few better Mcguffin's than metal and/or water to motivate a group of adventurers.

Hope this helps. Happy Gaming
2) Ideas on how to show the town improving over time


Incorporate the things your players add to it. If they finish a quest and ask for the town to be imporved, ask them how exactly they would like to see that happen. 

3) Ideas on how to mechanically keep track of the improvements


I wouldn't bother with mechanics for this. Just use it as a location. 

4) Ideas on how to reward the PCs (perhaps using the 'favor' system suggest in the Dark Sun book) and when to reward them


The town seems like a good place for the players to return for R&R and to resupply. There aren't a lot of places in Athas where you can restock your supply of healing foodstuffs. If the players work hard, a market might emerge here. 

5) Buy-ins I could use (eg: "The town is now under seige! Better go save it")


- Elf mob coming to the town to offer it "protection". 
- Dinosaur-riding Halfling invasion.
- Templars from a nearby city coming over to put the town under a Sorcerer-King's jurisdiction. 
- The well drying up. 
- Defeated enemies of the players seeking revenge. 
- The town's founder going a crazy (he probably already was quite mad for trying to build a city by himself)

6) Anything else cool that springs to mind


Have rumblings coming from the ground, and see what the players come up with for an explanation. Build upon that to see what's hidden in the depths of the salt marsh. Try not to come up with it yourself (very tempting, I know). 
One thing I would mention, if you create a place like this, or rather the PCs create a place like this, there is a good chance they won't want to leave. We all have a built in nesting instinct, and I've seen some games fall apart because the PCs reached a comfortable spot and the players were unwilling to move them. If you all want a game based around building up and running a town/city, that's great (sounds fun, actually) but 4E as a system isn't designed for that. It's about adventuring and conflict, usually physical.

There was a great Knights of the Dinner Table comic strip where the DM created a town and based it off the Andy Griffith Show's town of Mayberry. The players didn't want to leave and go adventuring, they loved the town so much. The DM tried to in-game get the PCs to move on by having the townsfolk be less friendly, and the group ended up burning down the town.
A few folks here will suggest to ask your players for input. It's a good place to start. How do they want to build the town? What do they want out of building the town? Getting ideas from the players proper can lead you to ideas yourself, and allow you to improve upon their own goals to help give the story they're writing life.


Thanks! I'll definately be coming to the players for a lot of the information - I like to have a bedrock though to work from to see where others found inspiration or found a pitfall. I'm looking forward to seeing what the players decide - so far they are playing merchant houses against each other and making New Erathis look like a real gem to fight for.

2) Ideas on how to show the town improving over time

Incorporate the things your players add to it. If they finish a quest and ask for the town to be imporved, ask them how exactly they would like to see that happen.


Good idea! So far nothing has been concrete with the town (they convinced 2 dozen freed slaves to move to New Erathis, and got a merchant house to set up trade relations) but I think things might start moving into a bit of 'build your town' style. Hopefully it will be a smooth segway to start including the town building aspect

The town seems like a good place for the players to return for R&R and to resupply. There aren't a lot of places in Athas where you can restock your supply of healing foodstuffs. If the players work hard, a market might emerge here.


Now that I think about it, they found one or two rare (healing) plants across their travels. If they had a town to nurture them, they might indeed have a supply of healing foodstuffs, and it would give them a tangible reward for their good deeds.

I was also thinking that as the town grows, the founder (a halfling who named himself Erathis after a strange dream he had one day) might also become more powerful. Maybe some rituals like purify water or ironwood might manifest subconsciously from him. I'll float a balloon and combine what the players like with what I could wrangle into a cool sounding story.

I think I'll try to keep it entirely optional without me really pressuring them; I wouldn't want to make it a chore or to force them to give 1/10th of all loot towards the town, but instead just let them spasmodically (or methodically) help the town as they see fit (they seem to be doing a good job so far).

Thanks for the advice so far - looking forward to hearing some more good ideas.
Handle it narratively. Whenever a little time passes in-game. ask the players what has changed about the town. Did they help with it? Did they help fund it? Don't require PC funds for that, just assume they've done some additional money raising (or allow them to narrate what they did). A town doesn't need adventurer-level cash.

According to standard fantasy and Dark Sun tropes, this town is begging to be sacked and its people enslaved. But run this idea past the players to make sure that threats against the town are something they're interested in dealing with.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

My campaigns tend to be more character driven than setting driven, so any time an issue like this comes up, I start with my social network.

You mentioned that this guy changed his name and tried to found a town in a salt marsh after having a dream.  What was the dream about?  Was it a dream, or was it a vision?  Why him?

You have also mentioned that some freed slaves have moved to the town.  Why? If they are former slaves, they must have been taken from somewhere.  Why do they not return?  What do they do in New Erathis?

Once you have identified the who and the why, the what and where will grow organically. 

I don't know anything about the dark sun campaign setting so I can't really comment on anything cannon, but when I see a fevered madman following a dream and wandering off into the wilderness, I see a supernatural purpose.  Something has called him to this location.  

A salt marsh is an interesting choice.  Very little will grow in or around New Erathis.  This makes the man who imports food very important.  Probably more important than the founder of the town.  What does he gain by bringing food to this desolate region?

 And when all else fails, make an interesting innkeeper.  He will be the one who knows all of the local stories and latest gossip.  
Next thing you will tell me Browbeat is bad.
@Osu:  Interesting ideas however if I understand correctly about what exactly a salt marsh is then this would actually be a potentially great place to build a city in the Darksun setting.  This is because the Darksun setting is basically a desert world so water is worth it's weight in gold, so if I understand correctly a salt marsh is basically like a salt-water swamp.  That being said, if the founder(s) of the town can figure out a way to remove the salt (magical desalinazation plant. hehehe) then they can have a great supply of wealth available for the town.
My campaigns tend to be more character driven than setting driven, so any time an issue like this comes up, I start with my social network.

By social network do you mean looking at the PCs/NPCs and their backgrounds?

You mentioned that this guy changed his name and tried to found a town in a salt marsh after having a dream.  What was the dream about?  Was it a dream, or was it a vision?  Why him?


I'm glad you're interested! I tried to keep my opening post short & to the point. In the Dark Sun setting the gods are dead/banished. The halfling had a dream-or a vision- where he saw a great city being built and the joy and comfort it brought to countless people. The safety, comfort and peace so amazed him. He immediately left his people, who thought his dream daft, and set out to forge a city of his own. He found the name 'Erathis' appealing, so began to call himself that, as he no longer felt his previous name defined his new, driven self.
However, while he has great zeal, he lacks in impracticality. 
He learned from his vision that great cities are founded near water, for water brings easy trade and something to drink. So he founded his city in [salty] water. He knows that cities needs to be safe, so the first door is 20 foot from the base of the ground. He eats a salty grass soup because greens are important. I tried to make him a sort of affable harmless "d'aww he's so cute and stupid" kind of character.

You have also mentioned that some freed slaves have moved to the town.  Why? If they are former slaves, they must have been taken from somewhere.  Why do they not return?  What do they do in New Erathis?


In Dark Sun there is basically a slave race of half-dwarves. They're often born into slavery, and don't tend to have a great life. A group of 20 had been taken for experiments by the baddies, so when they were freed they chose to not return back to the slave compounds, but what they saw as a 'free city' - especially a free city that they might have a significant sway over what happens to it given it is just in its infancy.

Once you have identified the who and the why, the what and where will grow organically.

This is where I am having the trouble. I feel that I have the who & the why (the background), but I don't have a clear guide on how to make it as interesting or enjoyable as possible in future sessions. Though by typing it all out, I guess there could be some player-mul slave tension when they want the city to go in different directions... hmm....

A salt marsh is an interesting choice.  Very little will grow in or around New Erathis.  This makes the man who imports food very important.  Probably more important than the founder of the town.  What does he gain by bringing food to this desolate region?

This is where the players have been really stepping in. Theyve been getting the merchant houses to sponsor the town in return for its unconditional loyalty to the merchant house. Erathis doesn't particularly mind for now - he just wants his city.

I've also been toying with the idea that as the city becomes more developed that Erathis will become more filled with divine aid - perhaps the ability to uncontrollably do certain rituals that might aid city construction. I guess that'd be more of a little side adventure to happen though, rather than how to build the city itself.