Category Archives: Roleplaying Games

The Despot’s Guide to Adventurer Management

Adventurers are, in their purest form, heavily armed parties of personally powerful individuals who amass great personal fortunes very quickly, and have a tendency to disrupt the status quo when it offends their somewhat arbitrary and often inconsistent sensibilities.

What’s a despot to do?

What a despot is to do

The first instinct of many a ruler is to prevent the formation of the adventurer class by outlawing the activities that lead to their creation. It becomes illegal for adventuring companies to form, and trespassing in ancient ruins becomes forbidden.

However, this is an insufficient measure in two respects. Firstly, there are many other crucibles for Adventurers to test themselves than whatever the powers that be might choose to prohibit – indeed, a lack of legitimate ruins to explore may only encourage them to meddle in local politics. Secondly, enforcement is almost impossible, as these ruins tend to be situated in the most remote and forbidding places, beyond easy reach.

Since prohibition is prohibitive, the remaining solution is regulation seeking to mitigate the problem. Instead of preventing or eliminating Adventurers, the wise leader incorporates them into society.

The Role of Adventurers

The Capitulation of Granada - Francisco Pradilla Ortiz, 1882Accepting Adventurers as a class is necessary to contain them. They are, in a way, like mercenaries, and often can be found doing the same sort of work for the same pay. However, there are sufficient circumstance that we should consider them a separate legal case.

As a legal class, Adventurers can be taxed, their rights to carry weapons and wear armor within civilized settlements can be curbed, and they can be pressed into military service as the need arises. Adventurers go from being a problem to being a resource.

The solicitation of Adventurers can also be regulated, limiting the compensation they can be offered, and what causes they can be employed towards. This runs into issues of enforcement as well, but if those who offer Adventurers work are regulated, this creates a second opportunity to keep control.

And as perhaps a final benefit, creating a recognized Adventurer class enables society to regulate and keep tabs on those operating within a ruler’s lands. Known Adventurers can be watched and monitored should there be reason to think they may stir up trouble.

Adventurers’ Guilds

The natural recourse for members of a profession who find themselves regulated is to form trade organizations to combine their political and economic leverage. This is the basic function of an Adventurer’s Guild, providing its members some manage of protection against the laws of those who would control them. While an Adventurer’s Guild may not have as many members as a Merchant’s or Craft Guild, the individual guildmembers will often have more wealth and more power.

Fortunately for the beleaguered ruler, an Adventurer’s Guild does much of the regulatory work for them. Guilds seek to maintain their own monopolies as a way to control pricing in the market, and as such, will rarely tolerate independent operators. This concentrates Adventurers into one place, and stricter regulations against non-guild adventurers will not only be tolerated, but requested.

As an added benefit, given the individualistic nature of Adventurers themselves, an Adventurer’s Guild will have little directed political focus other than keeping its own members safe. The Guild itself will seldom seek greater influence or power, compared to other trade guilds.

Public Perception

The final consideration that must be taken into account are the commoners’ perception of Adventurers. While in rare cases Adventurers may solve otherwise unsolvable problems for the peasantry, their disruptive nature cannot be overstated. The coin they recover in their activities can easily overwhelm the local economy, driving up prices well beyond what the common folk can afford.

However, when properly managed and taxed, the Adventure economy can build its own industry around it in the form of services catering to Adventurers, from trade in rare artifacts, to hireling management, to entire ‘Adventure Boomtowns’ springing up in the vicinity of dungeon locales.

Second City Survival part 4: The ‘Burbs

By 2034 Chicago was surrounded by a dense suburban sprawl to a distance of at least 30 miles in every direction. Residential neighborhoods, smaller towns, and commercial centers all blend together into endless concrete foothills before the city itself. It’s more spacious than the metropolis itself, a buffer between it and the more natural farmland and regrowing prairie of Illinois.


The years following the collapse haven’t been kind to the ‘burbs, as the native prairie has done what it can to reclaim the concrete, aided by the frequent super-storms. Much of it is in ruins, and much of it has been picked over, but life finds a way.

Cracked pavement


Nature has done its best to reclaim the ‘burbs over the last sixteen years, and many of the crumbling structures make excellent warrens for animals in the absence of man. Most of the plant life are tall prairie grasses growing out from between the cracks, across abandoned lawns, and anywhere else they can manage.

The largest predators native to the region are black bears, coyotes, and cougars, often preying on white-tailed deer, groundhogs, and other small mammals. Abandoned pets – feral cats and wild dogs – are also fairly common. Hunters will also find ducks, geese, and other fowl, and should watch out for the venomous copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes that find good hiding places in crevices.

Of course, there are also the mutants.


Mutant variation on the various animal species that live among the ruins are certainly possible, making even smaller animals that typically avoid humans potentially dangerous. I may discuss mutants in a future post, but their extent should reflect the tone you want for your game.

The Human Element

Desperate survivors cling to life in the suburbs, forming small farming communities around plots of arable land – former parks and community gardens and other greens paces. They eke out a substandard living in the shadow of the city, using the shape of the suburbs as defenses against the weather, mutants, and raiders from the city as best they can. These communities seldom include more than a dozen individuals, and are limited by the size of their farmland.

More and more frequently gangs from The City will demand tribute from these small communities in exchange for “protection,” taking food and supplies as they see fit. That may be the limit of their interference with the survivors’ way of life, or they may be treated like virtual slaves, with overseers left behind to keep an eye on them.

Feudalism is making a comeback.

Others in the ruins may be canny loners, merciless bandits, or the occasional exile from the city, banished for some crime or another, real or imagined.


The ruins have been picked over for better than a decade, but canny scavengers can always find just a little bit more. Given how relatively diffuse the ‘burbs are, it would be difficult to do a truly comprehensive sweep. Areas in the immediate vicinity of a community will, of course, be picked clean.

The Northern Suburbs

Suburban hexmap

Hexcrawling Suburbia

Each hex in the above map is about 12 miles across, giving them an area of 127 square miles. That’s a lot of ground to cover. These hexes should not be presented to the PCs, but used as a convenience for the GM’s sake.

We can use an adaptation of the system introduced in Hexbox, applied to whatever you’re running Second City Survival in. This means we’ll need to build a random encounter table, hex key, and probably a scrounging table.

Hex Keys

Each Hex Key includes general notes on the hex in question, any special rules for scavenging and encounters, any settlements, and the hex’s Key Feature. PCs have a 10% chance of running across the Key Feature each day of travel, doubled if they’re taking the time to explore and scavenge rather than just passing through.

If they’re following a specific major highway or railroad, of course, they’ll only run across what the route intersects. Make a note of this in the key as well.

Example: D2

Waukegan: The city of Waukegan is a valuable source of salvage for those brave enough to risk their lungs with the asbestos that hangs in the air. Before the apocalypse, PCBs in the harbor’s mud had combined with leachates from an improperly sealed landfill to create small pockets of explosive gas. After the superstorms of 2034, enough of these pockets were disturbed to aerosolize the asbestos in an old roofing company, creating more-or-less permanent clouds in many of the buildings.  Just passing through can lead to chronic lung issues.

Due to this danger the ruins have been relatively unmolested, and it is rumored great riches await those willing to risk the odds.

It will be encountered by anyone traveling down the coast, or along I-94.

Great Lakes Naval Station, near Waukegan, was an active training facility at the collapse. It currently serves as an outpost for the gangs operating out of Chicago, particularly the CPD, when conducting raids on the surrounding suburbs.

It will be encountered by anyone traveling down the coast

Six Flags Great America: East if Waukegan is a derelict amusement park that serves as home to the Allfolks, a gang that makes heavy use of old mascot costumes in their equipment.  The heads are usually eschewed as cumbersome, but the rest of the costumes are enhanced with improvised armor.


We might want to come up with different tables for different regions or even individual hexes, but first let’s work up a “generic suburban encounter” table. We’ll check for an encounter daily and maybe every night while the group is encamped.

d100 Subtable
01-30 No Encounter
31-60 Hex’s Special Encounter
61-80 Animal Encounter
81-95 Human Encounter
96-00 Mutant Encounter



Scavenging is going to be abstracted a bit, and either done within the hex as a whole, or while traveling. If done by traveling it’ll slow down your overall speed by about half… in either case, it represents poking around in abandoned cars, looking into gas stations and convenience stores, and checking out likely looking houses.

We distill this all down into a single roll each day against whatever skill or ability the PCs possess that fits.

On a success we’ll roll on another table, to determine what we’ve found. Given that each suburban hex is 127 miles in area that includes entire small towns, we can include a master table to determine where the goodies were found, and a sub-table to decide exactly what it was.


  1. Foodstuff
  2. Weapons
  3. Fuel
  4. Tools
  5. Medicine
  6. Clothing

Example Foodstuffs Table

  1. six pack of beer
  2. Salt packets
  3. Bag of rice
  4. Can of condensed milk
  5. Military MRE
  6. Jar of pickles

Optionally we can let the PCs focus on a particular sort of scavenge, giving a slightly lower chance of success in exchange for finding a certain category of good. A “scavenging called shot” if you will.

Anticipate larger scavenging and encounter tables later in the series, but next we’re going to start detailing the city of Chicago’s community areas.


Second City Survival part 3: Campaign Frameworks

As presented, post-apocalyptic Chicago is a fine setting but we haven’t touched on the other elements required for a campaign. This is intentional, as the purpose of these posts is to provide you with the tools you can use to run your own games.

Part of it is simply the nature of the sandbox. Players drive the action and set their own goals. However, if we provide some sort of more specific context, we can save the PCs from the dangers of decision paralysis – a goal, even nebulous, gives them a direction to plan in.

A crowded cityscape


The framework I had in mind while conceptualizing Windy City Devils was that the PCs would be outsiders to the city, commissioned to infiltrate and explore. The Government in Isolation has no idea what the situation is within the city, only that their patrols have been turned back by increasingly forceful resistance.

Unwilling to commit to a full-blown assault, the Acting President has assigned a small group of specialists to infiltrate the city, determine what’s going on, and integrate themselves as best they can. Eventually they may be “activated” as an sleeper cell to pursue the Government in Isolation’s agenda.


Players are loyal members of one of the larger gangs or other factions. The game focuses on their lives and careers as they rise in importance, build relationships, and vie with their rivals to try and dominate the city.

This game is a bit more slice-of-life, with a focus on the PCs personal stories within their chosen hierarchy. It deals more deeply with the personalities and relationships of their faction, as well as their development both in prominence and in power.

Even more than the other frameworks, this one is heavily character-driven, perhaps more individually so.

Little Gs

As above, but the PCs belong to a minor faction, a gang or group or family with fewer than a dozen members. Maybe the PCs are the entire faction. Regardless, they have more authority, but fewer resources.

In this framework the focus is on the development of the PC faction as they navigate in the shadows of the larger groups, surviving and trying to thrive. The element of personal development is still present, but the PCs have more of an influence on how well their faction does.


The PCs are independent operators in the city, offering their services to the different factions and survivors of Chicago, choosing which allies and enemies to make. Maybe they have a larger agenda, or maybe they’re simply profit-focused mercenaries.

This is a bit of a combination of the OG and Little G setup, in that they have freedom of action, but also focus on the PCs personal development. Of course, being freelancers there’s little protection from the other factions, and no expectation of loyalty.

Second City Survival part 2: Chicago Overview

In our first post we introduced the notion of a post-apocalyptic urban sandbox set in Chicago, covering the setting in broad strokes aside from the city of Chicago itself. Let’s handle that today.

Structure of the City

Chicago is divided up into 77 community areas, each comprised of multiple neighborhoods. The community areas have stronger definition than the neighborhoods, so we’ll focus on them as we develop the city’s post-apocalyptic future. This also gives us less work to do.

More broadly, we can divide the city up into four “sides:” North, South, West, and Central. East is Lake Michigan.

Before the apocalypse Chicago boasted a strong light rail system, the ‘El’ or ‘elevated train’ that carried commuters throughout. While it’s certainly possible that the factions within the city might get it up and running again, it is assumed that at the start of the game they have not.

Bringing the el back to life makes for a fine campaign goal, but for now the rails do serve as a possible means of travel for those who want to walk along them.

Speaking of Factions

In the 16 years since the Apocalypse, the most obvious source of factional power are the gangs. Chicago has a lot of gangs. Many of them belong to one of the two prominent gang families, the Folk and the People, but a lot can change, alliances can shift, gangs can die out, new ones can be born. And that’s before the apocalypse.

This gives us free reign to base our fictional future on the modern Chicago street gangs as much or as little as we like.

For our purposes, the gangs will essentially serve as the basic unit of social organization. There are some smaller scavenger families scrabbling among the ruins, but they have little protection – there are no laws, there are no social services, there is no authority to appeal to. Most have accepted a gang’s protection in exchange for labor, if not joining outright.

There are, of course, other factions.

The gangs exist, currently, in the form of a loose alliance, focused on maintaining their own holdings and occasionally raiding one another. Maybe they have some sort of council, or a stronger authority figure holding together their social plan.


The remnants of the Chicago Police Department are the largest gang in the city. They wear gang colors, they protect their brothers, they are not afraid to use force or the threat of force to pursue their goals.

It’s been over a decade and a half. They know that there’s no change coming to the city. But they maintain their moral high-ground as the only legitimate authority in Chicago.

The Company

2034’s Chicago was already pretty cyberpunk, so it’s not entirely unlikely that some corporate entity or another might have its own residential enclave for its employees. This isn’t even unheard of in the city’s history — the Pullman district still bears the name of the Pullman Palace Car Company.

Life in the Corporate Enclave is perhaps the closest to normalcy that can be acquired — they’d have the most resources after the Fall, a hierarchical organization, and perhaps a selection of skilled technical workers.

They’d also have the resentment of the rest of the city and a Feudal attitude towards their employees. After all, it’s not like they have anywhere else to go.

Mapping Chicago

So, with our community areas and social overview we can start making a map of the city. We start with just the community areas.

These will be the basic tiles of our sandbox. Each area will be described, it’ll have its own random encounter table, it’ll have its own resources.

Each will also have a certain amount of influence from the various city factions.

In the future we’ll flesh out some of these districts and the factions that inhabit them, as well as come up with some more defined campaign frameworks to set within our city.

New Release: Ibu – The Emerald Canopy

Taoscordian Games has just released the first wilderness campaign setting for use with the Hexbox system, Ibu: The Emerald Canopy.

Ibu is the first in the Heroic Expeditions series of campaign settings, sending players across endless seas to unknown lands filled with strange monsters and stranger magic. For GMs it’s a way to break players’ out of their comfort zones with a setting drawn from neither history nor Fantasy Gaming, removing from them any context that might provide them with set tropes to follow.

Instead, in the Heroic Expeditions series, the players will be faced with the same strange novelties that their characters must come to terms with.

Ibu: The Emerald Canopy will be followed up by other setting books that expand upon the new continent the players are set to explore… and exploit. It is available as a $9.99 PDF through DriveThruRPG.