- A political faction and its rival
- The place where the characters could lose all their money
- A place where people gather to hear news or speak their minds
- A secretive guild hall and its reputation
- The best place to obtain a hot meal and clean bed (or a crappy meal and a flea-infested pallet)
- A religious center and the god(s) to which it is devoted
- A feature unique to this town (view of a natural wonder, a strange clock, a healing spring, etc.)
As I have said multiple time on this blog, I prefer a political structure of five factions, so one might expect me to quibble at Otus’ suggestion of just two. I am not, for two reasons. First, this is an exercise in brevity and two is the minimum for creating political tension. Secondly, there is plenty of opportunity to use my “rule of five” with the major NPCs in the next step of creating a Town.
The most obvious political faction in town must be that of whoever is in the Keep. Whoever is in charge of the Keep is also most obviously an agent of the Terran Empire.
Given that the Terran Empire spans several worlds, an obvious choice for a rival political entity would be another star-spanning power. The problem with this line of thinking is that I would be setting myself up for creating a pair of entities whose interests are far more complex than a simple sandbox campaign on a map half the size of greater London would ever need.
Theoretically, the entity could be a represented by a monster group. The problem I have with this is that the Winter Witch monster group was always intended to be the original native population, the Lost World “faction” has no real political agenda other than survival (which could just as easily happen within the Terran Empire as without), and the Skinwalker monster faction would be way too powerful as an extant star-spanning entity. A large and organized collection of Doppelgängers could easily sabotage and take down the infrastructure of the Terran Empire with very little effort. My plan for them was always to be a tiny remnant left from a stellar empire that had collapsed a millennia ago.
Another option would be that of a demi-human civilization. Given that Halflings fully support Human Civilization and Dwarves and Gnomes are inclined to, that leaves Elves.
Elves are a neutral entity when it comes to Human Civilization. This means that their interests are not necessarily in direct competition, but it does mean that there will be times when the two are at odds.
This suggests that Elves may very well be a star-faring race but not necessarily a political entity in the way we normally think about politics. Given the fact that they have access to high level magic, unlike the humans, their concept of territory has more to do with knowledge than geography. Thus, humans can claim planets elves have inhabited with little conflict or interest by elves, but once they try to make high level magic their own, elves will see humanity as invaders.
This neatly solves my scale problem with two star-spanning empires, because the political goals of each are largely irrelevant to the other except for one tangible game mechanic: high level magic.
Thus, the two political rivals are the Terran Empire and the Fychfa’el Ofa’el, which can be roughly (if alliteratively) translated as the Sylvan Syndicate.
The obvious answer to a “place where the characters could lose all their money” is some kind of gambling establishment. My problem with this answer is that I don’t like gambling. It’s not that gambling is inherently evil (if I accepted such a premise I would also on principal have see RPGs as inherently evil) and it’s not that I am risk averse (I hopped on a plane to Eastern Europe the day the Soviet Army attempted a coup against the fledgling Russian Federation). I just don’t find it entertaining.
So, in order to fulfill this requirement I am going to go in a practical direction that plays off the theme that Human Civilization is low magic. One thing that my players always seem to ask, regardless of the make-up of the group, is whether or not there is a place they can purchase potions. In this case the answer is yes; however, the purchase price is not for the potion. The Ardmar the Alchemist will explain that the purchase price is for the ingredients because there is no guarantee that the alchemy involved in making the potion will actually work. If it does, the purchaser gets a functional potion. If not…you lose all your money.
There is a large open plaza in Darkport. It can easily be used as a gathering place to hear news, hear debates, and give stump speeches.
In terms of a secretive guildhall, I am tempted to create a guild of magic-users. The problem with that is that it runs counter to one of the major themes of the campaign. I do; however, have a legal phenomenon that needs to be explained: why are no vehicles or animals of burden allowed inside Darkport?
What if the Longshoreman’s Guild was influential and powerful enough to make sure that such regulations were in place? This would not only guarantee their livelihood, but expand it. This would be especially true if they had exclusive access to the 1st level spell Floating Disc.
In other words, there actually is a Magic-user Guild, but its interests are not in magical research, but in the monopoly of transporting goods in and out of Darkport. As a consequence, the Guild is not exclusively magic-users. They need spies and muscle to enforce their economic hold on the city. Thus, the Longshoreman’s Guild would subsume all the functions of a Thieves’ Guild.
As far as a reputation goes, as long as one stays on their good side, they provide timely and efficient service. Once you attempt to subvert their monopoly, however…well, let’s just say it’s not healthy to talk about.
The best place in town to obtain a hot meal and a clean bed is the local Tavern: Bairby’s Bed & Beer.
The religious center is locally known as the Church of the Holy Light because of a brazier that continually emits a flame that does not burn. Technically it is dedicated to St. Photius (which means light) and has some of his relics, but this is usually only remembered by the actively religious.
Finally, Otus suggests creating a feature unique to the town. The randomly generated map indicates a pair of large rocks in the middle of the open plaza that are known as the Black Stones.
Given the fact that Darkport exists in an arctic environment, a very useful resource for any community would be heat. Thus, the Black Stones radiate heat in a radius of about ten miles. It allows the people of Darkport to live in relative comfort and it keeps the water around the port free of ice making it possible to travel via the sea regardless of the season. Given the large space given to the Salt Pans, it also suggests that its major export is salt — all made possible by the heat radiating off of the Black Stones.