The Plague City

Poussin – The Plague at Ashod (WikiPaintings)

I’ve been reading a book called Necropolis: London and Its Dead (a souvenir I picked up in Cambridge), and it gave me an idea for a campaign. Just jotting it down here so that I don’t forget.

The seat of the empire, the City, has served as the seat of power and the source of culture for ages untold. The hegemonic family’s rule has been unchallenged. But now, plague stalks the city, and the Heavenly Family was one of the first to succumb. In the power vacuum that followed, lords stood dumbfounded, but only for a moment before they were at each other’s throats.

Quickly, the disease raged unchecked, and the city descended into chaos, law fleeing to the hills with the nobles outside the now cursed city walls. The one accord the warring nobles made was to seal the city from the outside, hoping to save the surrounding lands by a great quarantine.

The PCs have been sealed within. Food dwindles, and many of those with arcane knowledge have turned to necromancy, either to preserve themselves from slow and painful death through un-death, or to make use of city’s now greatest resource: corpses uncountable. This is D&D as survival horror, with “treasure” often being another meal. Like insanity in Call of Cthulhu, death, while not fated, would be to some degree expected at some point.

In addition to some human classes, several types of B/X-style race as class undead would be playable, and would probably have some sort of humanity stat (perhaps shoehorned into wisdom) which would be the undead analogue of constitution/hunger for the still living. Negotiating the factions, building new power structures within the anarchic confines of the City, and maintaining enough resources to survive would be the primary objectives of gameplay. Perhaps playing an undead would need to be unlocked first, by finding and performing the appropriate necromancy.

5 thoughts on “The Plague City

  1. Tom Hudson

    Justin Alexander (of thealexandrian.net) self-published a 3e adventure about survival in a plague-ridden city that had a few ideas along that line.

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  2. Gus L

    I like it. Wicked dark. Reminds me a lot of Heretic Works’ “Wyrmspittle”

    Also reminds me of the tomb neighborhoods on the Appian Way outside Rome. Miles of road lined with big boxy tombs and cemeteries, eventually inhabited by bandits, the poor and escaped slaves.

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  3. Ozzie Pippenger

    I like this idea. I might have to steal it. I like the way it keeps the game focused on one area, without relying on railroading. I always fall into the trap of giving players too much freedom of movement, and then not knowing which direction to plan for the next game. It would be nice to run something in a confined space for a little while, so I could really focus on fleshing it out.

    Just wondering, have you played Dark Souls? It’s a game set in a post apocalyptic kingdom after everyone turned undead, and then went crazy, and involves a lot of trekking around in disgusting ruins and quarantines. It has a Humanity stat similar to what you mentioned, where NPCs, though strangely not the main character, slowly lose their sanity the longer they’re undead and eventually “go hollow”, turning into mindless monsters.

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  4. Devin Parker

    Very cool! I like the “D&D as survival horror” idea, and urban-based games never fail to fascinate me as a DM.

    There was an adventure in an old issue of Dungeon Magazine called “Goblin Fever” which had similar ideas. Let me see which issue it was…ah, here we are: issue #46. Snipers, food shortages, fires, mad mob leaders… fun stuff.

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