Apr 07

My Big Four RPG Cities


Around Christmas 2015, there was a popular twitter tag #fourRPGs. I tweeted my four most influential games on Boxing Day.



Over my thirty-plus years of gaming, I have played many games and enjoyed some great settings. I expanded the original Twitter tag into two articles. I always wanted to return to this series, as I enjoy reminiscing about past games. This essay is another in the series, but now looking at the top RPG cities I have explored. These four cities are:

  • Sigil
  • Ptolus
  • Pavis
  • Middenheim




1. Sigil

Planescape was third on my list of settings, but the centrepiece of the great planar cosmology earns the top slot as a city setting. Sigil City of Doors was published by TSR in support of their Second Edition AD&D Planescape setting.


I adore the style of Sigil. The eighteenth Century-style thieves cant is highly atmospheric, and captures the character of the City of Doors. In contrast to this archaic language from the gutters is the high-brow philosophical conflict of the factions, who argue over the meaning of the universe. High-concept and low-fantasy swirl together in a fascinating mix.


The city itself is a captivating location: built as a torus, where the rules of physics are warped by magic. The aloof Lady of Pain remains a potent force, trapping rebels and zealous worshippers alike in small prison planes. Meanwhile travellers and merchants from all the known planes meet to trade in a city where any portal could transport the foolish to anywhere in the cosmos.


The potential for adventure in Sigil is almost overwhelming. Pocket planes, warring factions, strange visitors and the entire cosmos to play in. Our recent Sigil PD story arc was immensely fun, but only scratched the surface of what is possible in this crossroads of the cosmos. My Players are already keen to revisit Sigil, and I definitely want to practice my cant once more.


2. Ptolus

This city supplement, written by Monte Cook, was a near miss on my settings list. Ptolus is a book about a city, so deserves a much higher place in this essay. Ptolus lacks the broader setting of Sigil, but is a superior product for the GM.


Ptolus City by the Spire is perhaps the greatest single RPG setting book. It is a huge book, with beautiful art. The layout is impeccable, packed with useful information and cross-references. The city itself makes for a perfect adventuring location, with buried ruins below, intrigue on the streets and an ominous tower watching over everything.


The first cycle of tales for my current campaign was set on the streets of Ptolus, giving me a strong personal link to the city. I tinkered with the layout far more than I did with Sigil, but the experience of running the game from the text was much simpler.


Had Ptolus not sunk into the sea as part of a cataclysmic conclusion to the story-arc, I would be tempted to return to Ptolus. So, my options are either to step back in time, or to have the campaign return to the iconic tower. There is more to explore in the city, but this campaign reboot would be a harder sell to the Players.



3. Pavis

Unlike the previous two cities, I only visited Pavis through reading the supplements. Regular readers of the blog know of my love for the Gloranthan setting. Pavis is the most famous city in this incredible realm.


I have virtually visited Pavis at several times in its history. The most iconic phase of Pavis features New Pavis occupied by the Lunar Empire, while the old city is known as The Big Rubble. As with the previous cities on the list, this version of Pavis combines political intrigue and easy-access to intense adventure zones. The superb Griselda stories are set in this time, and account for another layer of my love for Pavis.


I hope our Tales of the Hero Wars campaign will reach Pavis at some point. This is unlikely to be our next story arc, as we will need a rest from city-based settings. However, I hope it will happen soon.


4. Middenheim

The final entry was a difficult choice, but it has to be Middenheim, from the Empire setting for Warhammer Fantasy. My long-running character in the classic Enemy Within campaign spent a long time in Middenheim. Santalion the Elf rose to become a Marshal of Middenheim, one of my greatest achievements as a Player.


This renaissance-era city was dark, gothic and very atmospheric. My memory probably combines events from all over the Empire, but Middenheim earns the place on this list as our final base of operations when our characters were at their most powerful.



Near Misses

As ever with such lists, the selections can prove tricky. There are four other cities which merit an honourable mention:

  • Arkham – the fictional Massachusetts city from the classic Call of Cthulhu game. My professor character lectured at the Arkham University, and uncovered many dark secrets around the city. Arkham has not had a lasting impact on my fantasy campaign, but was regularly visited during my student years.
  • Pelinore – a fantasy city presented in a series of articles in Imagine magazine, published by TSR UK. I may have run a few AD&D sessions in this city, making this my first urban setting. These detailed locations were a foundation of my higher-prep gaming routines.
  • Minas Tirith – the iconic city from Tolkien’s Middle Earth. This is a cheeky inclusion on the list, as I have not read the RPG supplement for the city. However, I love the location in the books, and the presentation in the films was stunning. I cannot justify its inclusion in the top four, but my love for the setting is strong.
  • Ulubrae – this subterranean city is the setting for the current story arc of Tales of the Hero Wars. A homebrew city is not as well developed as the commercial settings, yet the game within this dwarven city is very entertaining. It was created in collaboration with my Players, and there are plenty more streets for us to explore.




Once again, it is wonderful to revisit my gaming past. The Tales of the Hero Wars runs strongly through these cities, one way or another. There are also a couple of destinations on the list we are yet to visit. I am sure the campaign will enjoy many more stories in these fantastic cities.


What are your top four RPG cities? What classic location have I missed? How many of these have you visited? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.



Happy Gaming



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