Sunday, March 1, 2020

Using the Rainy City in your Existing Campaign

The Rainy City works as a standalone setting, big and varied enough to be the home of multiple campaigns. So far, I've used it in three distinct long-form campaigns myself, plus a very large number of one-shots.

But what if you've already got a campaign going? How can you use this place? 

Maybe you want to have the PCs visit the place for a while. Maybe even come and go. Can you still do that? 

Absolutely. Let's start with the city as a self-contained place, and expand from there to some alternative visions of how to use the city in your own campaign.

The City as the End of All Possible Worlds
This is how I play it.

Some sort of magical catastrophe caused the world to start flooding. Then it spilled over into other alternative planes and dimensions. And it just... kept... spreading.

The city itself was probably the epicenter of the magical catastrophe. Many people in the city think that a wizard did it. The Grand Academy of Magic was here, after all, and now it lies flooded beneath the Murk, the foggy channel that separates the two islands of the main city. Someone in the Grand Academy made a mistake.

A Mistake, even.

It must've been a big one because all the many and diverse worlds of the multiverse are flooding, one by one, and their refugees keep showing up in ships year after year. (It takes a long time to flood a multiverse, and many sages believe there are infinite alternative prime material planes, so this could keep happening for a while.)

Once people arrive in the city, it's their new home. There's no leaving again. Some few people make it into the Nine Swells to Vagabond Bay, but no one ever heads out and makes it back. There's nothing but storms and sea monsters out there, forever. Most people don't survive the floods that destroy their worlds, and of those that do escape by water, even fewer make it to this one last port in the storm.

The Bermuda Triangle
In this model, you place the Rainy City anywhere in the seas of your own campaign world as a kind of "Bermuda Triangle" within the setting. Maybe it's distant, obscure, at the edge of the map, and no one knows about it. But there could be rumors. Lost treasure ships. Vanished explorers. A place no one returns from.

But wait. If no one has ever gotten out, how do we know about it? Give the PCs a map, tell them about the rumors, or just mark it on your campaign map somewhere. Maybe they'll want to check it out.

And maybe, in your campaign world, it's possible to get back out once you've gone in.

The Lesser Bermuda Triangle
As above, but people have gotten in and out -- it's just too stormy for regular trade routes, not too stormy for the very best sailors and adventurers to brave. This keeps it isolated, lets it have its own identity, but at the same time lets your PCs visit and return. Very powerful patrons might even pay adventurers to take the risk of entering the storm to find the Rainy City to take a message in, or to beseech one of its powerful wizards for something. Maybe someone on the outside hires your adventurers to go to the Rainy City, steal from a wizard, and come back.

The Elemental Plane of Water
If you have elemental planes in your setting, you can place the Rainy City in the elemental plane of water. Maybe not all the worlds are flooding, but some do get flooded and the survivors land here.

Or maybe it is the port between your world and the elemental plane of water. If you want to go to the elemental plane of water, first you have to sail successfully to the Rainy City. Then, after resupplying, you can set out from Vagabond Bay to sail the rest of the plane of water, returning to it as your safe haven and port back to your world.

A Dreamland 
The Rainy City could also be a dreamland, a place that can only be visited in dreams. Your players could be drawn there, for a time, and have to find a way to escape this dreamland. Or maybe they choose to go there to steal dream magic from the wizards of the Tower Cliffs.

Nine Swells, Nine Hells. Funny coincidence, that. And now that you mention it, you have to cross a body of water to get here. And once you arrive, you can't go back. And the place is full of ghosts and demons, in addition to a lot of people, none of whom, now that you mention it, seem to have the most morally upstanding of characters. And hey, no elves. Is that because elves don't have souls?

Hm. Maybe hell is just very, very wet.

Maybe the material component of a Raise Dead or Resurrection spell in your campaign could be... sail to the Rainy City, find your friend, remind them who they are, and get them out. Make an adventure out of it.

The Distant Future
This assumes that the first version is true -- the Rainy City is the city at the end of all worlds. But your world isn't flooding. Yet. And it might not flood for... a long time. Your PCs can visit the city through time travel. This may be the future, but it's not a future that affects their lives and homes directly.

The Near Future
Or maybe the floods are immanent. Doom is on the doorstep. The end of the world is nigh. The PCs might travel to the Rainy City to try to figure out what caused the floods so they can go back to their own time and stop it before it's too late.

Using the Rainy City with 5e

Let's bring this series full circle. We started with the OSR/classic era version of the world's oldest RPG. Today, in the last major post in this series, let's look at how to adapt the Rainy City to 5th edition.

Choose a Background, Race, and Class
One strength of 5e as a game is the menu of big, broad, interesting decisions it provides you when making a character. The backgrounds, races, and classes of 5e provide broad strokes character concept material that can inspire a diverse range of character concepts. When you start combining them, the emergent possibilities for characterization are very rich. One of my favorite modeling games to play when prepping a new campaign is "what is an 'elf' in this setting?" -- and the Rainy City is no exception. The Rainy City also has its own list of "peoples" -- the most populous groups that make up the city.

Let's jam these things together and see what happens!

In my home campaign, I call elves, dwarves, and halflings the "remnant" peoples because they're the iconic fantasy roleplaying races that are not always front and center in the city these days, where so many other diverse peoples have found their place in the city. The remnant peoples have still made their mark on the city, however! 

Let's start with the obvious. Boggies are halflings. They were halflings when I ran the Rainy City with the Rules Cyclopedia. They were halflings when I ran it with The Fantasy Trip. They live in round houses (which I picture looking a lot like big beaver lodges). Their neighborhood is called "Bog End." You don't need any help adapting them, other than that I would make them entirely immune to Will o' the Wisp enchantments.

The next remnant people is the group known in the city as the "Mine Goblins," who toil beneath the Tower Cliffs and have a goblin market in the Silver Falls Mines. It helps here to remember that a "people" need not be mapped one-to-one to a specific single race in a game like 5e. I'd treat the mine goblin people as encompassing a shared cultural mélange that includes a mix of dwarves, gnomes, and goblins. I personally tend to picture them all as fairy-tale like beardy little mine people, so I'd happily throw kobolds into the mine goblin people with the same aesthetic. But if you'd rather keep the 5e look for kobolds, you could leave them out of the Mine Goblin people. More iconic 5e kobolds could be swarming all over down by Wormswell in the Sump, in service to the worm. A classic kobold would also probably make a very good Puddingman, if they went up and joined the Puddingman's Union out of Old Town.

Elves. I'm going to include elves, eladrin, and drow here for simplicity. Most people say there is only one elf in the Rainy City, the Grey Elf, who lives in the Mids and hires "divers" (adventurers) to escort him on dives into the underwater ruins of the Grand Academy of Magick. No one knows what he seeks. However, some people whisper that the town is filled with elves, who have secret doors hidden throughout town and only move in hiding. It's not that the Grey Elf is the only one -- just he's the only one people know about.

This is a great hook for one or more players, and maybe you'll all figure out the truth (for your campaign) about the elves when someone makes one. It is a lot of fun to be the last member of a particular group left, or one of only a few. And it's a lot of fun to know a secret that the rest of the city doesn't know. 

As to the other races? Well, one fun aspect of the city is how the turning of the seasons affects the water-breathing peoples, but 5e's water breathers tend to be amphibious. Only deepsies -- the people who are infected by that fishy infection -- can freely breathe both air and water in the Rainy City setting, and that provides them with a unique niche. They're diseased, and marginalized because of it, but they have an ability that no one else has most of the year (except during the Rainy Season). This helps them get by in some jobs, and in some cases even find ways to prosper.

I'd use triton as is for deepsies.

Oh, hey, remember when I said a "people" didn't have to map one-to-one to a particular 5e race? It goes the other way, too -- a particular 5e race doesn't have to map one-to-one to a single "people" in the Rainy City.

Because I think I'd also use triton for mermaids and mermen.

With one change, that is -- they have to remove their "shawl" (their tail, which becomes a shawl they can carry around) to breathe air and have legs (unless it's the Rainy Season, of course), meaning that they have to switch back and forth. Fairy tales are filled with stories of mermaids having their shawls stolen. Personally, I'd never steal from an adventurer, mermaid or not -- but then again I'm not one of the grasping, short-sighted NPCs of the Rainy City.

What about dragonborn? I think they're the result of someone making a deal with the Worm in the Sump and not carrying out their end of the bargain. If you betray the worm, you're cursed to take the form of a dragonborn, and the Worm still considers your debt unpaid. The Worm might also offer status as a dragonborn to someone who wants it. In exchange, of course, for a service.

As for tieflings, they're right at home here -- the town is filled with demons, devils, and other invisible beings. Sometimes these beings incarnate for a time, forgetting most of themselves and living as a mortal. Some do this over and over, living and dying, then incarnating again for new lives and experiences. These are your tieflings (and aasimar). Also, the classic trope of a demon paramour is right at home in this town, so you can have classic tieflings, too.

One more fun one. Gulls. The gulls of the city -- sentient seagulls about the height of a halfling -- are one of the major peoples of town. I'd just use aarakocra stats for these guys.

Finally, it's a city where refugees from all the worlds and all the planes can potentially wash up when even their infinite planes somehow flood. So any people of any setting or supplement could find a place in the Rainy City.   

Divine Magic
There are a lot of divine casters in 5e. What do we do with them? I talked about this same basic issue in my Zweihänder post, and the options here are similar.

First, maybe you like the fact that the gods aren't around and don't grant spells to priests. It's part of the flavor of the town. Try running a 5e game without divine magic! Healing gets rarer, and the texture of the town is emphasized. The acolyte and charlatan backgrounds will take care of most of your needs for cult and religious leaders. Oh, and warlocks and bards, both of which make great cult leaders. I would, myself, also still allow the divine classes, just noting that any divine magical powers don't work. You might think that means no one would ever play one, and you're probably mostly right, but I wouldn't discount the possibility that a player might see this as an interesting hook to hang a character on. A Paladin from another world who has been separated from his god and his god's gifts? That's a fun concept. (You could also capture this with the Acolyte background and Fighter class if you want to use the concept without taking the hit in character abilities, of course.)

Ok, but what if you and your players really don't want to go without divine magic? I'll offer the same solution I did for Zweihänder -- you can keep it by bringing the gods down to our size. Replace the default model of a pantheon of powerful gods with the ten thousand petty gods and demons of the ten thousand cults of Levee Town. Small, demanding, and very, very present, these beings could grant divine spells to their worshippers.

But to prepare yourself to pray and regain spells between excursions, you must go into the presence of your god, physically heading to Levee Town to pray to your diety. Maybe that sun god you worship stands on a box in Littleshrines preaching his own doctrine to anyone who will listen. Times are tough, ok? It makes him shine just a little when you stop by! Look at you. You made your god happy. That's a good deed!

If you want divine magic in the Rainy City, petty gods and demons are a great approach. It's a lot harder to look your god in the eye when they are disappointed with you when you actually have to go stand in the rain on a busy thoroughfare in Levee Town and look them in the eye, you know?  

The Harmonious Chantry of Alchemists is, arguably, the most powerful single organization in the city. I think in 5e, it probably has the monopoly on training all legal Artificers of every subclass, not just the Alchemist subclass. Any artificer who works outside the bounds of the organization is probably doing so in secret. The rest of this, I think, takes care of itself.

Weather Magic, the Seasons, Fire, Larvae... 
Rather than repeating myself, I'm going to point you here for some thoughts on weather magic, fire and the seasons, larvae, and so on -- these apply equally well to 5e as they do to old school editions of the game.

There's a start on 5e!