Categories
new melyne ttrpgs worldbuilding

the town of New Melyne (part two)

jobs, trades and industry

Today, as advertised, we’re going to be talking about the jobs and industries that are present in New Melyne. It’s quite rare in RPGs that players will actually work at their established occupation; most of the time it’s background material that explains “why they’re the way they are”, not expecting them to spend a session working as an Architect or Blacksmith. I do, however, think that it’s important for NPCs in a town to have established reasons for being where they are. In a dangerous place like New Melyne, we want our townies to have good cause for not catching the next iron caravan out of the place, and into a safer place to live. A lot of the time this might be family, or lack of money, but it’s equally likely to be their profession necessarily ties them to the land. So let’s give some colour to New Melyne and chat about what we expect folks to be doing on the day to day.

We have become a civilization based on work—not even “productive work” but work as an end and meaning in itself.

David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory

Firstly, let’s use donjon’s Medieval Demographics generator as a solid foundation for us to start on:

You’ve got to have your Mercers. Society would truly fall without them.

This will be the canvas we work on. Thankfully, we’re not going to have to create twelve separate shoemakers as that’s not a typical RPG haunt, but it gives us a good expectation for what the general townie of New Melyne might look like. There are some trades that I would say are mandatory for a town if it is to be an effective setting for a traditional adventuring game:

This is not because the town could not function without them, because obviously there’s a lot of trades that the town wouldn’t function without. This is because these are trades that our players are likely to interact with at some point in their campaign. By setting this up now, we enable what I think is the “optimal play experience” for a player in a settlement; needing some form of trade, and knowing where to get it. It’s normally a pretty miserable experience for a DM when a player asks where they can buy something like a disguise kit, if you don’t already know where that might come from. It leads to something I’m going to call “pop up shopkeeping”, where no trade in the settlement feels permanent, they just manifest in reaction to the players needing them. While this is bound to happen at some point, by pre-planning what’s here, we can avoid having to do it quite so often.

Conversely, a player knowing where they’re able to get certain things means that they’re more likely to be immersed in that settlement. When you leave your house to pick up groceries, you probably don’t need to rediscover where you get them every time. Similarly, when a player knows details about a settlement (“Dontov’s Roasts is the place to go when our characters want to talk over food”), they’re more likely to form an emotional bond with it. If you ever want to do a campaign where a settlement is destroyed, make sure the players know the names of at least three places that are going up in smoke, otherwise it’s no different from when they torch a kobold nest or goblin encampment.

Out of the jobs we have here, players are most likely to interact with Blacksmiths, Carpenters, Inns, Taverns and Doctors. These fulfill the very basic adventuring needs1 of “Somewhere to buy things that kill, somewhere to rest after they have killed, and somewhere to feel better if they have been (nearly) killed”. For this reason, we’ll focus on flushing them out first. From the donjon list, we’ve got one blacksmith, five carpenters, one inn, three taverns and zero doctors. This is problematic; we already established that New Melyne is a town with fantastic access to iron, so having a single blacksmith feels like a missed opportunity. We don’t have a doctor, and we have five carpenters, which feels extremely excessive. So we’re going to adjust those values a bit: we’ll have three blacksmiths, two carpenters, one doctor. Let’s just say that two of those carpenters decided to pick up the hammer and tongs, and one of them decided that medicine was the life for them (maybe after some horrendous, saw based accident).

the blacksmiths

Let’s talk about these three blacksmiths. Three is a good number, because it allows us to inject some character into each one, distinguishing them from the rest, while not being too odeous a task to plan. I always like the idea of shops having specialisations, because they become an easy shorthand for the players to remember them by. Similar to real life, we understand that certain supermarkets are better at certain things (stocking that flavour of crisp you like) versus others, even though they’re all supermarkets. Blacksmithing has some fairly obvious “specialisations” to me – weapons, armour, household and industrial. Weapons and armour are self explanatory, household would be anything that you could imagine in a normal house, utensils, pots, pans, and locks for instance. Industrial would be things like picks, nails, cart braces, anvils2, horseshoes etc.

We don’t necessarily need to limit a blacksmith to doing only one of those specialisations, as they might be of differing size. For instance, one of the three might be the best for weapons and industrial blacksmithing because they’re larger and older than the other two. In fact, why don’t we make that the case?

Huxler’s Arms

Specialization: Weapons, Industry

Description

Huxler's Arms is the first and oldest blacksmith in New Melyne. Owned and operated by Wallace Huxler, one of the original setters of the town and close friend of the Founder, the smithery is home to some ten to fifteen employees, apprentices and smithery aids.

A small front building with a shop, primarily selling arms, backs onto a large courtyard where the sounds of blacksmithing and forging ring out. A medium-sized workshop building contains most of the smithing equipment, and a large water tank holds water used for the quenching of metals.

New Melyne Armour

Specialization: Armour

Description

While New Melyne Armour is the most recent blacksmith to appear in New Melyne, it has landed with some recognition and quickly established itself as the premiere smith for anyone looking for protection. The owner, Kios, became famous when she challenged one of the townfolk to stab her through new halfplate. The event ended with a broken blade, and an injured hand.

The building is too small to have a shop area, and Kios prefers to conduct business on the workshop floor. There are no display racks of armour here, everything is made to order and made to last. Though, there is a small outside area where the handful of employees may catch a breath of fresh air away from the soot and smoke of the forges.

The Blessed Machine

Specialization: Household, Industrial

Description

Situated just off the main road, the business has been a fundamental part of New Melyne for almost ten years, selling industrial materials and household items through to the various shops and merchants in the town and beyond. Jointly owned by sister and brother Rivia and Marcos Zhorest, their business has gone from strength to strength as components created in their smithery are nationally known for their machined precision. 

One might be forgiven for thinking that the building was never used due to its cleanliness and relative quiet, but the Zhorest siblings value tidiness and organisation over all else. Employees of The Blessed Machine can often be seen leaving the shop with soot-covered overalls and faces, but return pristine the next day. As a result, the building housing the smithery is deceptively small, with space utilised efficiently. A small office is where most business is done.

So now New Melyne has three blacksmiths, with plenty of opportunity for us to flush them out later, and lots of potential starts for quests. Perhaps the Zhorest twins have discovered a small fire elemental in one of their forges, and have requested the players to remove it? Perhaps Kios charges the players with looking into a potential conspiracy, where a trader has claimed that her armour fell to pieces and killed a client? It might also be the case that the players simply interact with them to sort out their weapons and armour, but with the little detail we’ve included above, those interactions become flavourful and meaningful.

the hospitality

Now, it’s time to do what might be the most important aspect of the town’s trade, the inn.

The Unturned Stone

Description

The Unturned Stone sits in the very centre of the town, and is one of the largest buildings in all of New Melyne. Primarily of wood and stone construction, a great deal of care and attention has been involved in its architecture. Its walls are thick, and while there are wooden slatted windows, they are small to avoid loss of heat. There are two entrances, a large set of thick, wooden doors that act as the main entryway, and a second, smaller entrance at the back of the building for intake of stock. Curiously, the main entranceway boasts a set of iron braces for a barricade, that can be dropped into place via a lever and chain. This was a specific request from the Founder.

The ground floor is a large, open plan tavern area with enough seating for fifty tavern-goers at a time. The first floor hosts a collection of sleeping quarters, with enough beds to support twenty people. These are a mix of dormitories, with basic floor space for bedrolls and beds, to private rooms with animal pelt rugs and hearthplaces. There is a public washroom where warm water is brought up and decanted into baths - a common haunt for miners when the grime and dirt becomes too hard to shift through rags and scrubbing.

The owner of The Unturned Stone is a woman by the name of Bogod Harrien. She is renowned for her fiery temperament, and willingness to throw ne'er-do-wells out of her establishment. Privately, she was a good friend of the Founder, who mostly paid for its construction at the very beginning of New Melyne's history. She is protective of her employees, and couldn't be forced to part with the inn at spearpoint. She has a deep and profound adoration of New Melyne, and if she thinks something is amiss, will not hesitate to act. 

We now have our very first inn! Innkeepers are normally important characters, especially in small towns/villages, so with Bogod, we have great opportunities to introduce potential quests and politics into a session. It could be the case that the players enter the inn, Bogod sees that they’re capable of handling themselves, and asks them if they’re interested in work. Given that this is the only inn in the town, if the players aren’t roughing it out at night on their bedrolls, they’re going to cross paths with this place.

We can always add more detail to these places, but I’m a firm-believer that more detail will come in play. Maybe Bogod’s history was being a Captain of the Guard, or a mercenary, and she has a selection of weapons mounted on the walls as fond memories of that time. (and to have them available in a pinch…) But with a firm foundation, we have enough to give to the players on that first glance. However, The Unturned Stone is not the only establishment in New Melyne; we need a selection of taverns as well. With taverns, I find it’s important to have a spectrum of places: one that is fancy enough to act as a ‘victory lap’ for the players after coming by a hefty chunk of gold, one that is shady enough for them to conduct or disrupt illegal business, and one that can act as a catch-all for anything else.

The King’s Riddle

Description

The King's Riddle (referred to as just "The Riddle") is a small, hole-in-the-wall tavern, constructed about fifteen years ago, it has served as the quiet drinking location of a select few. Its small size (only allowing for a maximum of twenty drinkers) has created something of a tight-knit community. Everybody knows everybody, and while the tavern is open to everyone on paper, the reality is that strangers are regarded with a degree of hostility. It's not impossible to become a member of this community, but it will be through invitation if at all. The low ceilings and generally low light makes it a perfect spot for one to conduct more unscrupulous business - but only with the consent or involvement of the owner.

The King's Riddle is owned by Mandos the Old, an old smuggler who hasn't quite managed to shift his desire for illicit activity despite his old age. He did not know the Founder, and largely kept out of his way, however with the Founder's disappearance, Mandos has somewhat expanded his reach. There are rumours that he is attempting to form some sort of syndicate, but rumours are just rumours...

Quentin’s Magnificent Chalice

Description

Strange aromas, wistful stringed instruments and the meaningless conversation of those who just like to talk. These are all things one would find on a nightly basis at Quentin's. Secluded down a pathway between two buildings in the center of New Melyne, one must knock and check their weapons at the door to gain entry. While Quentin's is available to anyone who wants to wet their whistle, the prices are the primary barrier to letting just anyone walk through the door. Ergo, Quentin's is the primary locale for traders, property owners and visiting nobility: who might be inclined to drop a hefty sum of money on something as ephemeral as a shot of liquid claiming origin from a thousand miles away.

The business is owned by the eponymous Quentin, who made their riches selling armaments and magical artifacts to the highest bidders. While they might describe their escapades in more fruity language, it is fairly clear that Quentin is a war profiteer with little to no regard for the consequences of their actions. To Quentin, life is temporary, and those who have lost at the game of life are just that: losers. While this latest business is in Quentin's own words, their retirement, it's a possibility that they will just up sticks and leave if the desire takes them.

The Silver Boar

Description

Located in the industrial district of the town, The Silver Boar is a miner-owned and miner-run establishment. A squat building with a single floor, rough furnishings, and a utilitarian look, The Silver Boar offers a perfectly acceptable drink at a more than reasonable price. What makes its location inconvenient or even unpleasant for a regular townie, makes it perfectly well suited to those working in the more industrial part of the town.

What started as a break area or resting room for miners finishing their shift has ended up as a fully functional tavern. With the disappearance of the Founder, and the emergence of the town council, the miners promptly unionized to avoid exploitation. The tavern is, legally speaking, owned, operated and subsidized by every miner in the union. It might not be the place for a quiet drink, but if you're looking for somewhere to forget the day's toil, it's the place to go. 

Well, we’ve added some flavour to the town from these, especially from The Silver Boar, where we’re beginning to talk about the actual forces and powers at play. With them in place, we shouldn’t be lacking a locale for our players to undertake most activites that one would in a tavern.

the carpenters

While carpenters aren’t likely to see as much activity as Blacksmiths, it’s worth having them planned out to enable those who might not use metal (druids) or prefer bows and such.

Melyne Carpentry

Specialization: Furniture, Construction

Description

Melyne Carpentry was one of the first businesses to appear in New Melyne, created by some of the workers that performed initial construction on the mine and camp. Situated on the north side of the town, close to the treeline, is a large warehouse for storing planks and lumber. Accompanying this is a sawmill for the processing of wood provided by the local lumberjacks.

While the carpenters was started by a collection of workers, the de-facto leaders are considered to be Mary Sawtooth and Gregory Radler, who were largely responsible for the carpentry needs of the town during its founding. They're a bit longer in the tooth than many of the new carpenters, but their knowledge is without match.

Three Tree Bowyers

Specialisation: Bows
Three Tree Bowyers is a relatively new business, started six years ago by Kheri Strangeblood. Despite the dangers involved, the Bowyery is set outside the boundaries of the town, in the forest. While not being so far away from the town as to be without protection, the building is more akin to a small fort than a normal carpenter's building. The walls are made of stone, the doors are thick and heavy-set. All work takes place inside, apart from the testing of bows, which happens on a small firing range outside.

Kheri Strangeblood firmly believes that the finest bows can only be made in the shadows of trees. She chases the platonic ideal of a bow, with her designs becoming more and more simple as time goes on. Despite their simplicity, their deadliness is without question - the only challenge that Kios of New Melyne Armour has refused is one where the weapon was a Strangeblood bow.

Phew, that’s quite a few locations. We haven’t done the Doctor yet, but I have a plan for them, which we may cover in the “Powers” post which I will be doing next! What does that leave New Melyne looking like?

Still a bit bare! We’ll need some houses and markets in there, but we can cover that later. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, and I’ll catch you next time for “Power and Power Brokers” section of our journey here.

Footnotes

1 Unless you’re playing a very survival focused game, food and water are unlikely to be mechanised, and we normally expect players to receive them from inns and taverns; if I was to add another trade here, it’d be some sort of food market stall.

2 Somebody has to have made the first anvil. Right? …Right?

Categories
new melyne worldbuilding

the town of New Melyne (part one)

the basics

I wanted to do a category of blog posts where we do some normal DM planning activity, and I explain some of the decisions and ideas that go into it. This is the start of that series, and we’re starting with the creation of a town called New Melyne (pronounced malign). I love creating locations in RPGs more than anything else, possibly because I like creating maps, possibly because I’m terrible at creating characters. Who’s to say. The image I’ve used for the post is from Richard Benning, and I think it’s awesome.

I’m imagining this town as being the location of a fantasy one-shot, or a series of one-shots, so we’re going to put more detail into this than we would for every town that the players might visit. We need enough content for the players to feel like there’s more to explore, even after a couple of sessions into it. It also means we need a problem for the adventurers to solve. Something for them to uncover. With a name like “Melyne”, I’m thinking that this is a town with two faces – one side which presents itself as an average, respectable settlement with opportunities for those willing to seek them. The other side is the real face of New Melyne, a shadowy place where people are strange and inscrutable. Where everyone has an agenda, everyone has a play for power, and even the dullest scraps of it are jealously hoarded.

I’m getting ahead of myself. In this post, I’m going to talk about why New Melyne exists. When doing worldbuilding, I think it’s always worth asking “why is this here?”. In answering this question, we might discover that there’s no reason for it to exist, and that we need to give it one. Last thing here, the world at large:

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe

Carl Sagan, The Lives of the Stars

In this instance, I actually disagree. We’re not trying to recreate The Silmarillion here, we’re trying to create a town. We might have a detail in the town that requires elaboration about the outside world, but it’s often easier to start from a single place and then build the world around that, instead of attempting the reverse. New Melyne can be a microcosm of the world around it.

why does New Melyne exist

If there’s a settlement somewhere, there’s normally a very good reason it’s there and not somewhere else. That reason could be a resource (the sea/a river for fishing and trade), it could be religious (set at the site of some religious event or tradition), it could be military (set in a location to allow for defence/mobilisation) – in New Melyne’s case, it’s going to be next to iron. There’s something inherently tone-setting about a town being next to a mine; if I was going to go full literary analysis on it, I’d give a few reasons.

  1. “Confrontational” relationship with nature. We take what we want with violent tools like picks and drills, as though we’re fighting against the land for control of those resources.
  2. Darkness and depth. The idea that the town might be a small piece compared to a vast network of shadowy tunnels that lie just below the surface.
  3. Hardiness and grit. Mining is traditionally very dangerous, attracting those who are either brave enough, or have no choice.
  4. Mine entrances as portals to the unknown. Normally we build walls and defences, but the mine entrance is a yawning gateway to whatever lurks beneath.

We’ve immediately said a few things about the world in general – that iron is a valuable resource worth extracting, that people are capable of creating settlements for purposes like iron (over reasons like basic needs, water, food), and that the iron is probably going somewhere (as you don’t need a big mine to support the iron needs of a single small town). Despite the iron needing to go somewhere, I want New Melyne to feel like a frontier town – I don’t want it to be some boring subsidiary of a big, cumbersome nation-state. I want it to be independent, with no greater authority than itself. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves; we’ll cover the authority/government piece in a post on its own.

There’s three more immediate requirements that come from New Melyne being next to iron. Firstly, that the terrain around New Melyne is quite rugged, with hills and valleys (because it’s far easier to mine into hills and valleys, rather than mining straight down). Secondly, that New Melyne is relatively far away from other settlements (otherwise it wouldn’t be a town, it’d just be a mine). Thirdly, that despite the rugged terrain, New Melyne must be reachable by road (otherwise it’d be horribly slow to transport any iron from it, and it wouldn’t be used).

This is all very useful information for our RPG! We have a route for our adventuring party to arrive in the town (the road and trade), and we have a reason why they wouldn’t immediately leave (the remoteness). Possibly most importantly for an adventuring RPG, we have a source of danger and mystery in the terrain and the mine1.

food for thought

People don’t eat rock. New Melyne might be where it is for the iron, but it must also have access to food and water. You never want to have that awkward moment where a player asks just how exactly your settlement survives, despite the fact they’ve yet to see a single source of nourishment. In line with the theming that the mine brings, I think New Melyne is going to primarily survive off hunting. It ticks all the boxes of hardiness and grit, it enforces the dangers of the nature around the town (as they don’t keep livestock), and it gives us a reason for weapons to be more commonplace (useful later…). I think access to water is going to be via a nearby stream, as that gives us a reason why more regular folk (not hunters) venture outside the town’s walls (meaning that they built the town closer to the iron source than they did the water, showing you the priorities of the town founders!).

The fact that the primary food source is going to be via hunting, also gives us an insight into the sort of clothes and armour people wear, and some jobs/industries that might exist other than pulling rocks out of the ground. It also suggests that the area around New Melyne must be somewhat plentiful with game animals – presumably if the hills were full of seventeen feet wide hyperpredators, they’d live off cave fungus or something equally miserable (or not have gone there at all). In terms of clothes and armour, it’s probably going to be a lot of leather, iron and pelts, with items made from resources sourced via agriculture being rarer (and mostly imported). I’m imagining a street of the town containing tanneries, blacksmiths and smokers – with all the foul smells that those industries bring.

origin story

Now that we have some semblance of a ‘why’, we can start thinking about a ‘how’ for New Melyne. We don’t need to detail this all now, but it’s good to quickly think about how it came to be. Keeping in step with the idea of New Melyne being an independent settlement, I like the idea of the town being some sort of venture by a semi-wealthy individual with limited/no existing ties to the greater world. I also like the idea of the town being around 22 years old, because we don’t have to write an extensive history, and it allows for a generation of working age people who were born in the first few years of the town. The benefit of it being a very young town, is that it makes sense for the surrounding area to remain somewhat of a mystery.

By having the town be a business venture started by an individual very recently, we’ve squashed down the possible hierarchy quite flat. Almost everyone in the town would have a personal connection to the founder, especially seeing as they’re likely to have some business connection. Right now, the town’s growth looks something like: (in order of arrival)

  • The Founder (as of yet unnamed)
  • Employees/associates of the founder (most likely miners/involved in mining)
  • Family of the employees/associates, immediate friends. Hunters, architects, etc. Jobs required for the town’s long term survival.
  • People seeking business opportunities from the newly growing town. Shopkeepers, traders, the wealthy.
  • Children of the first arrivals.

While this could be fine, having such a dense web of relationships will make things challenging. So for this reason, I think the founder of New Melyne disappeared five years ago. We’ll talk about the reasons why that happened in a later post, but it means we are going to need some small government structure when we come to that. In terms of the number of people living in the town, I’m hovering from anywhere between a five hundred to a thousand people. This definitely puts on the small scale for a town, but we can start to play with this number later if the number of jobs starts looking weird.

what we have so far

  • New Melyne is a very young mining town, built next to a source of iron to mine and trade with the wider world.
  • It’s set in an area of rugged landscape that has largely been unexplored.
  • It primarily survives on hunting as a source of food and clothing, but does trade for other goods outside of that.
  • It’s independent from the world around it – a law unto itself, for now!
  • It’s an industrial town, due to having dirty industries like tanneries, blacksmiths, and charcoal burners.
  • It started out as a commercial venture, but has evolved past that with the disappearance of the owner five years ago.
  • The current “government” must be quite young and inexperienced, as that disappearance was unlikely to have been expected.
  • There’s something very, very wrong with New Melyne.

Come back next time when we’re going to talk specifically about what sort of jobs and industries exist in New Melyne, and the beginnings of a map.

Footnotes

  1. I find it’s pretty common to forget to introduce an easy source of danger. If you don’t have this, then the source of danger becomes the settlement, and most of the foes the players will face will be humanoids. While this might be fine for the session you’re running, if you were looking to add more variety, it might not be what you want.