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SOME ADVICE TO GAMEMASTER A SWORD & SORCERY « DECADENT CITY »

(second version with addition of « inns » at the end)

The « decadent city » is a trope of the Sword & Sorcery genre ; however, to my knowledge, no RPG
book gives a lot of advice on how to « gamemaster » such a city, so that players characters feel « it's
wicked ».

A well-known « decadent city » is Shadizar, however R. Howard only gave a few hints about it and
didn't write any story taking place in it. But we can have a look at Zamboula, Khauran and the
unnamed cities in « Rogues in the House » and « The Tower of the Elephant » (later pastiche-
writers identified this one as « Arenjun » in Zamora). We've all heard about Lankhmar by F.Leiber,
and U.Pignatelli has written an excellent « Jalizar » for « Beasts & Barbarians » ; however, IMO,
those two cities are more of the « rotten den of thieves and iniquity » category – though some of
their elements are common with what I qualify as « decadent ».

First of all, especially if you use a RPG system with an « alignment » for characters, the main
alignment of the population or the alignment of the « shakers and movers » of the city should be
« evil », aka corrupted, wicked... Well, some gamemasters and players may feel uncomfortable with
this fact, but that's not so far from the real world. Just imagine a city where the lord-mayor would be
Berlusconi, the chief-treasurer Strauss-Kahn and the court bard Harvey Weinstein...

To better understand this, we can make a comparison with the « high-fantasy » good city found in
some D&D books or among writers like Tolkien. Such cities have guards and some « ordre public ».
In a decadent city, there are guards, but no « ordre public », only iniquity. The guards (or what may
be called « the police ») should only intervene for major felonies endangering the existence of the
city itself (ex: blatant arson), but, for the rest, their motivation to act shall depend on the social
status of the victim : if the its « Social status » is « 0 », they don't intervene at all. Likewise, if they
do, their silence can be bought with bribes : a corruptor with a higher social status than his victim
and offering the necessary sum (some rulesets indicate amounts) always wins. The same for jails
and for judgments (if the case reaches the court) : gaolers and judges can always be bought.

Why ? Because money is what fuels the wickedness of the city. Gold can buy everything : sex,
drug, power. Good, and even neutral-aligned cities do ban the commerce of drugs, often slavery,
and (with less success) prostitution. Evil cities don't. The same for evil cults. As long as the overall
existence of the city and the interests of someone of higher status as yours are not menaced, assume
that all of this is legal : drugs, gambling, slavery (and trade of slaves), prostitution, evil cults and
ceremonies. Even sex out of wedlock may be legal (at least for males). Fencing stolen goods might
be partly legal, but only for goods robbed from lower classes (so there is still job for smugglers
hiding valuables from temples and nobles....)

But slavery means slaves. Foreigners may thus be prey to kidnappers. Men are wanted for their
strength, women for their physical appearance (+ characters with higher fighting ability might be
valued as gladiators/pit-fighters). First determine what qualifies as « foreigners » ; I suggest that
« barbarians » characters are automatically included in this department. Second, reckon some
weekly percentage to be victim of slavers/kidnappers each week, depending on the RPG system you
are using. For example, imagine that, in a percentile system, a female can be considered
« beautiful » starting from 30/100 CHARISMA. So her weekly « kidnapping percentage » shall be
her Charisma value – 29%. However, if her fighting ability is higher than her Charisma value, use a
percentage based on her Fighting value. I suggest there are D3 kidnappers/slavers, each of roughly
the same level as the potential abductee.
Encounters should reflect the wickedness of the city. Here is the encounter table from « The City of
the Spider God » (Yezud) by Morten Braten, that you can freely download (along with other good
S&S stuff) from https://hyboria.xoth.net/ )

1. Zamorian noble with entourage


2. City watch
3. Temple slave
4. Priest of Zath with entourage
5. Thugs
6. Beggar
7. Merchant with guards
8. Mercenary company
9. Cutpurses
10. Prostitutes
11. Scholar with entourage
12. Giant spider
13. Fire
14. Public execution
15. Jail break
16. Holy day
17. Curfew
18. Kidnappers
19. Escaped slaves
20. Entertainers

Other ideas can be found in « Revelry in Torth » by Venger Satanis.

Some RPG systems give rules to generate cities. Concerning decadent cities, consider there is no
more city planning, and that, for example, a bordello might be neighbour to a minor temple. A very
random table for buildings as the one in the D&D5 Gamemaster's Guide may do a good job.

Finally, the wickedness should be found in the scenarios themselves. Consider that every adventure
has a « complication/twist » based on sex and/or wickedness. Use the table at the end of that
document (D60, use the next entry if you've already used that one given by the dice) ; those
examples were taken from various sources, mostly D&D's « Book of Erotic Fantasy » and
Mongoose's « Shadizar » (Conan RPG)

So, as a final example, let's use the « Adventure Generator » provided by U.Pignatelli for the Steel
Edition of « Beasts & Barbarians », but assuming that this scenario takes place in a decadent city
(so the first card value is left out). I get :

– Adversary = Powerful Lord


– Conflict = Joker (!) (so things are more complicated than they seem)
– Reward = wealth
– Getting into the action = reluctant heroes.
– Plot = Mystery
– Twist = Here I do not use Umberto's Generator, but my own list below : I get 13 : 13. A man
sells his daughter into slavery to pay for his drug habit or he may sell his daughter to a sorcerer to acquire
lotus. The characters are either asked to avenge the girl or may be investigating her disappearance.
– Climax = Chase/Escape.

So, the scenario is pretty straightforward : the heroes are compelled (for debts ? Hence the « wealth
reward », I suggest to run the « After the Adventure » module.... before the adventure, and with
some money the players don't have.... Carousing in a decadent city is so irresistible....) to investigate
the disappearance of a girl (she was sold by her father to the wizard leader of a demonic cult =
« powerful lord » for lotus ; the patron may be the mother). Umberto gives a clue for the chase :
the party must escape from a dangerous situation, such as the collapse of an underground temple in which the heroes have killed a
powerful demon.
Things are more complicated than what they seem ??? Hmm, the mother may be herself member of
a rival demonic cult, and may just have to keep her virgin daughter.... for her own sacrifice
ceremony !

If this is an « underground temple », we should use the D&D5 random table to determine the
building on the surface + D3 buildings nearby (I get 3). The investigation will lead in all probabilty
the players there. I roll :

The building over the demonic temple is a shop (hmm, that chandler's got so many customers
getting in and out... and spending a lot of time within... Do they test the candles in actual
conditions???)

The other buildings are a tavern, only open to members of a certain guild (chandlers ?), an
abandoned squat (front for a secret cult !!!! A red hering for our heroes !) and an orphanage (lol !
Forlorn children are so commonon these days !)

WICKED TWISTS/COMPLICATIONS (d60)

1. A nobleman has betrayed a mistress for a young woman or a young wife and vows revenge. The noble betrayer is a
friend or associate of the player characters and they have been asked to protect him.
2. A young couple from Brythunia arrives in Shadizar to start their life together. Unfortunately, the vices of Shadizar
have driven a wedge between the couple and the wife is betrayed for debauchery. The wife wants her husband back or
wants an escort back home. The husband wants the wife to join him in his debauchery.
3. A strange Zamorian with a taste for other men’s wives contrives to buy other men’s gambling or drug debts, then
force these men to sell their wives into slavery to him by threatening to impoverish them by collecting immediately on
their debts.
4. Prostitutes are being murdered in record number
5. A cleric of Inebra has laid a challenge for anyone in the tavern to best her in a drinking contest. The prize: Her
unusually beautiful body
(granted, it might not be beautiful compared to say… an elf, but she’s definitely pretty hot for a dwarf).
6. A court bard tells particularly bawdy stories about the King of Southport and is the victim of a failed assassination
attempt. He is afraid for
his life and seeks protection from the heroes.
7. A young girl is in love with a man and envies his wife. She wants to become the man’s slave girl but the wife
opposes the transaction. The girl now plots a kidnapping, blackmail or perhaps murder…
8. A new law decrees that al men must be married at age 20 or are otherwise drafted into the army.
9. Tired of the unrelenting vice and crime running rampant in the city, an unlawful vigilante has taken to the streets at
night. The players may be engaged in the hunt for the vigilante, may join the vigilante or may be the vigilantes.
10. The rivalry between a generous wife and a passionate girl for a man takes a criminal turn. The characters might
get framed for the crime as a convenient scapegoat for the criminal.
11. A mother has fallen in love with her son/daughter and has taken him to Shadizar to live in peace. Her betrayed
husband wants the wife punished and the son killed. Characters might be hired by the husband to be the force of
vengeance orhired by the wife or son to protect them from the husband. Characters might simply be caught in
the wrong place at the wrong time. The same theme can be used in reverse, with a father in love with his daughter/son
and a vengeful wife.
12. A group of bar goers is playing with fire, and the tavern keeper has given his bouncer the night off.
13. A man sells his daughter into slavery to pay for his drug habit or he may sell his daughter to a sorcerer to acquire
lotus. The characters are either asked to avenge the girl or may be investigating her disappearance.
14. A daughter has fallen in love with her fatherand has resolved to murder her mother and has involved the player
characters, either as scapegoats or as the means of murder. As a variation, the mother may suspect the murder and
engage the players as protectors.
15. A jilted lover hires an assassin to kill a party member.
16. A local harvest festival features a tourney. The prize: one kiss with the Harvest Queen that turns out to be more
than what the player
bargained for.
17. A local pimp is accused of hiring underage girls but the watch cannot investigate because the pimp will not offer
services to anyone known
to be in the watch, and some of their officers may be on the take anyway. The girls are wary of talking about their age.
18. A local widowed noblewoman turns up pregnant and is accused of incest. Her son has accused the accuser of rape.
Though the accusations of incest prove to be true, the heroes must decide to reveal this information, and ruin the lives
of the accused (possibly inciting a lynch mob), or stay silent and let the son (a far superior fencer) kill the honest
accuser in a duel.
19 : A marauding band of wandering barbarians captures all thewomen of a small town.
20. A madam tells the party that the watch is ignoring her complaints about a rowdy nobleman abusing her girls.
21. A merchant’s daughter is being held for ransom, and the merchant wants the heroes to find the girl before the
captors have their way
with her.
22. A night of drunken debauchery results in the party’s gear being stolen.
23. A nudist enters town and members of the guard who try to arrest her end up collapsed on the ground mindlessly
masturbating.
24. A party member receives unwanted attentions from an ugly wench.
25. Captured by an enemy, the adventurers are handed over to a dominator to lear the meaning of discipline and
respect.
26. A priestess of Luna approaches the group at a tavern claiming that one of the sisters of her order was asked by a
local guild master to
accompany him on a date and she has not came back to the temple since.
27. A prostitute complains of abuse from her pimp.
28. A respected citizen is accused of multiple rapes but his wife claims they were having sex at home every time.
29. A scandal uncovers a chaste virgin giving up her vows to violate a mayor’s marriage.
30 : One of the adventurers begins finding love letters addressed to her inside her gear, but none of her companions
are responsible.
31.The king has died and the queen declares her female lover as her new legal mate, much to the consternation of the
populace.
32. A new high-class brothel has opened, coinciding with a rash of burglaries of the homes of some of the highest
strata of society.
33. A set of royal twins known for their stunning looks and cruelty takes a fancy to one of the adventurers and demands
for him to choose one or the other as a lover.
34. A voyeur uses scrying to spy on the party’s sexual exploits.
35. A widowed baroness claims to be a lesbian.
36. A wizard has taken a town hostage. He has demanded monthly women as tribute to his power, and the town hires
the party to rescue the
women.
37. A woman in Southport says her brother was captured by drow in a local forest and carried to a nearby cave. When
the party arrives, they find that the brother enjoys his new life as a sex slave.
38. After a series of sexual assaults by masked assailants during a circus, the heroes are asked to infiltrate the circus
and find out if they’re behind the assaults.
39. An adventuress retires and puts out a call for all eligible bachelors to participate in a tourney for her hand in
marriage and all of her landholdings.
40. An armorer’s wife is a nudist.
41. As the party arrives in town they are accused of kidnapping several teenage girls.
42. As the party arrives to the village from their last adventure, they find that the only place that will offer them a
night’s stay is a small farm
with a man, his wife, and two daughters. The only available space is the living room floor, and the daughters’ beds.
43. A roving band of frenzied disciples entices young women from a town to leave their families behind and join them.
44. Villagers go into a frenzy and begin burning adulterers alive, upsetting the town's stability.
45. A fiend has corrupted a highly revered cleric, causing him to commit unspeakable sexual acts.
46. Local guards are afraid to cite a woman wearing breastless crotchless black leather for lewd behavior.
47. The adventurers are asked to a hedonistic orgy and the royal palace – intrigue and sexual politics ensue.
48. One of the Harem girls has gone missing, her sheets bloody. Though this works best if one of the players is of the
Harem Guard archetype, the harem could send an associate to inform the heroes.
49. One of the local honored mothers has come up missing, and only days away from her due date, can the party find
her in time?
50. During a night of passion, an adventurer's lover inadvertently reveals crucial military secrets.
51. Strange sightings of tentacle beasts and a sudden rise in missing people leads citizens to believe that cultists are at
work in the area.
52. The adventurers are falsely accused of kidnapping several prostitutes from a harem.
53. The guard would like the party to investigate rumors of slave trading by getting sold at the market and escaping
the buyer.
54. The head of the Mistress Guild spends an awful lot of time in the countess’s court.
55. The heroes are asked to join a secret sexual society.
56. The adventurer's sexual exploits are watched by their enemy via scrying.
57. The local mayor makes a law that fails to recognize infidelity as cause for divorce.
58. The local mayor offers up his daughter’s hand in marriage for the defeat of some monster savaging the
countryside.
59. The local mayor’s daughter is set to marry someone she doesn’t want to and begs the party to help her escape.
60. While attending a banquet at their order, one of the adventurers is propositioned by the lord's son.
61. The party has been caught between rival gangs fighting over the prostitute sibling of one of the gang leaders.
62. The party is captured and handed over to a dominatrix.
63. The party is hired by the watch to investigate rumors of assassination plots originating at a local brothel.
64. Fleeing his own wedding, a young man asks the adventurers for protection against the bride's angry family.
65. One of the adventurer's allies is seduced by their archnemesis and used against them.

However, it may occur that the players, in order to protect themselves, would refrain from any interaction
with the city-dwellers. But there is one point they cannot escape : inns. At the end of the day, they'll need to
sleep, and to eat and drink.

Consider that any inn, any « hotel » may be a den of iniquity


D20 Name Description Source of Depravity
1 God's Canker A gambling den, Owned and operated by
frequented by laborers Owen McGauth, a man
who uses his innate
powers of mesmerism to
hypnotize patrons into
committing robbery or
acts of murder
2 The Cracked Actor A gambling den, Owned and operated by
frequented by rich Angelia Dewitt, a medusa
merchants and traders who hides her true nature
behind a mask and hood.
She will attempt to lure
any particularly attractive
characters (or either sex)
into her private rooms to
turn them into a statue—
she sees herself as an
artist who preserves
physical beauty for all
eternity
3 Hell's Bitch Rough pub, frequented by Owned and operated by
sailors and dock workers Doktor Vamker, who uses
the bodies of anyone who
dies on the premises in
his necromantic
experiments
4 The Bucket of Chum Pie shop who serves Front for a coterie of
vittles of questionable brain lashers; their
edibility servants drug patrons and
take them to the basement
to have their brains
devoured
5 The Broken Ass Opium den, frequented Front for the Steel Cadre,
by exiled aristocrats a fascist paramilitary
organization that is
plotting to take over the
Islands of Unparalleled
Liberty
6 The Harlot's Dimples House of ill repute, Front for the Spiketail
definitely disease- Clan of wererats; their
infested servants knock-out
patrons and drag them to
a sewer hideout where
they are subjected to
demonstone experiments
7 The Wench's Complaint House of ill repute, Front for a disreputable
specializing in recruiter for the
masochism Ulverland navy; patrons
might be shanghaied and
then press-ganged into
military service
9 The Weeping Cabin Boy House of ill repute, Owned and operated by
specializing in sadism Jana Sparan, a cultist of
the Black Father who will
either tempt patrons into
selling their souls or
sacrifice them to her dark
god
9 The Hag's Tit Rough pub, frequented by Utterly infested by
thieves and thugs disease and vermin ; any
amount of time spent here
will call for saves vs.
disease
10 The Monkey's Guffaw House of ill repute, Cursed by Harland Yarm,
specializing in « exotic a warlock who was killed
races », aka orc women on the premises. Any
amount of time spent here
will call for saves vs.
curses; this curse can
only be removed by
giving Yarm's remains a
proper burial
11 The Maggot's Nest Drug den, specializing in Front for otherworldly
goblin-harvested slavers whose servants
mushrooms will drug patrons and
then attempt to sell them
as laborers to lords in
Mord-Stavian
12 Your Son's Folly Bawdy playhouse, Owned and operated by
specializing in all-nude Freeman Hull, whose
revues that satirize drow lover uses the
contemporary politics establishment as a place
to test her new poisonous
concoctions
13 The Miserable Pustule Cabaret, where all the A frequent haunt of
players are incurably Morly Gullcatcher, a
tone-deaf notorious highwayman
who is under surveillance
by bounty hunters sent to
capture him. The
characters will get caught
in the crossfire
14 Your Mother's Lament Fish-and-chips shop, A den of thieves; the
where the chips are characters will be the
always soggy victims of pick-pocket
attempts
15 The Knifeman's Stumble Rough pub, frequented by Also frequented by the
mercenaries and Bleeding Nihilists, a
sellswords death cult. Unfortunately,
whatever day the
characters visit this
establishment is the day
they've decided to kill
themselves...and
everyone else they can
take with them.
16 The Grinder's Hole Bear-baiting ring Cased for weeks by the
Violet Dawn, a thieves
guild who will hold-up
the establishment on
whatever day the
characters happen to be
there
17 The Squatting Nymph Underground pit-fighting Cased for weeks by the
ring, no hold barred and Antiking's Men, a radical
fatalities encouraged group who will firebomb
the establishment on
whatever day the
characters happen to be
there
18 The Braying Cousin Oil-wrestling venue ; Owned and operated by
matches are encouraged Demian Hask, who must
to end in copulation for keep the walls of one of
the amusement of the the establishment's rooms
crowd coated in blood lest some
horrible Cthulhoid thing
break through into the
world
19 The Whispering Arse Bawdy tavern ; The basement is used as a
mumblypeg is the chief- storeroom for illicit
amusement here goods; two rival gangs of
pirates will descend on
this location to retrieve a
treasure chest full of
plundered gold while the
characters are there. Each
believes they have the
rightful claim to it and
will fight to the death for
it. The characters will get
caught in the melee, at
the very least
20 The Crooked Cock Rooster-fighting den, The people who own the
frequented by the poorest cocks that fight here have
of the poor been purposefully
mutating their animals by
feeding them chunks of
demonstone; some of the
roosters will have
mutated into
uncontrollable beasts
with odd powers—they
will run amok while the
characters are there

Taverns (bars) are not better : (d20)

1-5 Quiet, low-key bar


6-9 Raucous dive
10 Thieves' guild hangout
11 Gathering place for a secret society
12-13 Upper-class dining club
14-15 Gambling den
16-17 Caters to specific race or guild
18 Members-only club
19-20 Brothel

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