- Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Before David Simon wrote The Wire, he wrote this masterpiece of nonfiction. Ostensibly the account of a year spent with the Baltimore Police Department's homicide squad, it is so much more than a 'true crime' book: it is almost a social novel, encompassing every area of Baltimore life, with a cast of hundreds and dozens of plots and subplots, very few of which get resolved. It's also stunningly well written, once you get used to its detached, objective tone. The perfect description of a modern, developed-world city seen from the belly up.
- Ian McDonald's The Dervish House. Set over the course of a few days in Istanbul in 2027 AD, the city is as much a character as the people themselves in this novel: there are few books you'll read which more accurately capture the complex, random fabric of city life than this.
- Uncaged: Faces of Sigil. 40 NPCs to use in a campaign set in Sigil. If the unimaginative folks at TSR could come up with Big List of 40 NPCs to start off a game with, then you can do it too.
- Time Out city guides give a great sense of what a city is like - charting their history, geography and social characteristics, as well as providing lists and lists and lists of restaurants, clubs, bars, galleries, shops, etc. If you can take in the information through osmosis, you can then pull it out when you need something like it to appear in your game.
- Detective/police procedural fiction often relies heavily on a strong sense of the city as a living, breathing place. They also have large casts of interesting characters, with tangled webs of interaction. Reading a lot of detective fiction gives you a genuine sense for how complex settings work, and how narrative (or, in our context, the game) emerges from the interactions between different elements within them. I highly recommend Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow (Copenhagen), the Inspector Rebus novels (Edinburgh) and Gorky Park (Moscow) in this respect.
- Many people have read his feudal-Japan-set book, Shogun, but Noble House is James Clavell's real masterwork. Set in a week in Hong Kong, you get to see every facet of life in that great metropolis, from the bottom (maids and prostitutes) to the top (stock market traders, corporate executives). It's also impossible to put down, despite being 1200 pages long.
- I should also include William Gibson's Bridge trilogy, which is in a way an imagined city par excellence (even if it's sort-of based in Oakland), and many of my notions of cyberpunk cityscapes in particular stem from it.
- And finally, of course, there is Perdido Street Station, which as a novel I don't particularly like, but as a setting I think is wonderful. Again, it's an imagined city par excellence, complete with subway map and sprawling suburbs: if you're going to come up with a fantasy city, this really ought to be one of your starting points when it comes to inspiration.
Saturday, 11 February 2012
How I Run Sandboxes in the City, Part III: Appendix N
Here is a list of fictional and non-fictional resources I look to for inspiration in designing a city-based game setting, and when fleshing it out.