In designing our fantasy cities, we generally think about merchant districts, where the rich live, a docks, maybe a slum or two, where the temples are and where whoever is in charge lives. This book suggests that, just as real world cities might have a Chinatown or a Little Italy, people of the various fantasy races might well choose to live in districts of their own; and presents five ready-made racial neighbourhoods for you to use or at least mine for inspiration.
The first is the Dwarf Burrow. These dwarves prefer, even in a city, to live underground. Their homes are accessed down a flight of steps situated in the middle of what looks like an empty field (why, I wonder, hasn't someone else appropriated this real estate?). But it's not just homes down there, dwarves also practice their trades - especially smithing and ceramics - and it's the best place to go to purchase weapons, armour, jewellry and other such items. They also maintain warehouses, train their militia and hold worship in temples to their gods. Some dwarves never bother to visit the surface at all! One nice touch is that the history of the typical dwarf burrow is recorded as carvings on the corridor walls. It tends to be dark in all but the places frequented by other races - odd, just because dwarves have darkvision, they do not have to use it all the time! - and can be prone to flooding, although dwarf miners are generally good at avoiding the sewers built by surface-dwellers.
Next comes the Mithril Heights, home to elves, providing an eclectic mix reminiscent of student quarters and retirement homes to the casual observer. It tends to be older - and wealthier - elves who live there, younger ones are more inclined to mix with other races. Many of these older elves are scholars, and any younger ones you encounter are likely to be their students. They often accept students from other races as well, many making a living as educators of the young. Art and music are well-regarded, and it's a good place if you enjoy the arts, or want your work to go on display or to perform. Narrow streets and tall buildings make it a complex place to navigate, and there's plenty of magic about.
This is followed by Halflingtown, quaint and picturesque home to local halflings. They value peace and quiet, a nice place to relax... and public bathhouses are popular. Other attractions include good restaurants, facilities for dogs and ponies, bandstands and at least one festival a week. Larger folks need to remember, though, that most buildings are halfling-size!
The next area to explore is Gnomelight, a sort of fantasy Las Vegas. Characters wishing to gamble, to seek that really special item, to take in a spectacular show or attend a flamboyant party will head here. There's loads of magic, mostly illusions or otherwise part of a show. Crime is low, especially where the gnomes themselves live (but outsiders are rarely welcome there). There's even a few rules for popular gambling games if your characters wish to try their luck.
Finally, you can drop by the Orc Trough. It's a slum neighbourhood, inhabited by the poor of all races, not just orcs. Still, there's a good animal market and other items may be cheaper than elsewhere in town. It's also home to slaughterhouses and other smelly crafts, a good place to find a fight and somewhere to hide. The city authorities rarely come round, so you will be on your own in terms of personal safety and protection from theft, though. If your city has any particular race - or other grouping - that's officially downtrodden and disenfranchised, this is where they live along with anyone else who is down on their luck. People who do have work are generally animal handlers, slaughtermen and butchers.
These five districts hang together well, with some interesting ideas. There are minimal plot hooks for each one, and some sidebar suggestions including ways of making your character a native of that district and how this could influence a city-based game. It's a good way of ensuring that the humanoid races are properly represented in your city, whether you use these districts as-is or mine them for ideas to inspire your own designs.
Return to Racial Neighbourhoods page.
Reviewed: 23 May 2009