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The City of Rowding is a system-neutral setting for modern-day games, full of gangsters, corporate intrigue, and just a little bit of weird. Do you need a city for a modern game? This article can help!

On the flat plains of midwestern America sits a city called Rowding, the capital of its state. Smoke from the Steelyard curls into the sky day and night, motorbikes speed down the wide streets, and a couple hundred thousand people just try to live their lives as best they can downstream of an economic collapse.

Rowding, as written, is set up for a modern crime game, but it could easily be retooled to a superhero, magical girl or urban fantasy game. St. Zdislava’s makes an ideal home base for a group of magical girls, while Crystalightning’s experiments could make for a solid superhero origin.

One final note before we get into the juicy, juicy content: Rowding as written is pre-COVID-19, forever frozen in Roughly 2018.

Downtown

Business during the day, party at night. Many reputable businesses operate here, but the streets can get dicey after it gets dark. Biker gangs rip around the downtown core, drunk hooligans wander the alleys.

Rowden Action News 6

RAN6 is the local news station, based out of a skyscraper downtown. Their offices are right at the top, just below the roof, allowing for easy access to their helicopter. Their broadcasting studio is set up so viewers can see the city behind the anchors.

Oliver “Olly” Vayrynen, the boss. Olly Vayrynen is a Finn with a thick accent. He’s the money behind RAN6, and is constantly pushing his employees to find new and sensational stories.

Lian Hao, ace reporter. Lian Hao moved to Rowding from the coast a few years ago, following rumors of drug cartels and government corruption. Most recently, she’s been staking out Crystalightning’s complex and the strange people coming and going from there.

Oak Grove Technical Institute

Oak Grove is the local post-secondary, where many tradespeople learn how to build and fix things. Commonly referred to as just “Oak,” it also maintains a small but vibrant art program. The halls of the school are wide, and there are many courtyards throughout the campus, serving as both a place to study and a way to get natural light into the halls. Students are usually called “Oakies.”

The Oakie Corral

Located near the center of the Oak Grove campus, and backing on to one of its courtyards, is the Oakie Corral. The bar has a vague western theme in its decor, and serves as a place for students to study, drink and eat something slightly more nutritious than ramen.

Ainley Hall

The largest dorm at Oak Grove is Ainley Hall, a brutalist five-storey building made up of hard angles and concrete embellishments. The front foyer, facing south, has several tall but narrow windows, which make the area relatively welcoming. For a brutalist building, at least. A large portrait of the building’s namesake, Richard Ainley, is hung by the doors. His elderly face watches the students with mild disdain. There’s a party going on somewhere in it every night.

Ainley Hall is has an unfortunate nickname, which I will leave as an exercise for the reader.

St. Zdislava’s Girls School

Commonly referred to as “St. Zed’s,” this downtown catholic school sits among the skyscrapers. The central building used to be a large cathedral, but it was refitted decades ago to its current purpose. Its tall, gothic spires make it a notable landmark for the city. The central hall, where the pews used to be, is now used as a cafeteria. A beautiful stained glass depiction of St. Zdislava herself overlooks the students as they eat. An old rectory behind the main building is used as student housing for the few students that aren’t local.

Old steam tunnels run under the property, heating the rectory, main building and outbuildings. A few of the entrances are fairly well-known to students, or at least to the more mischievous students.

Sugar & Spice Espresso Bakery

Espresso and baked goods place. A popular hangout for the girls of St. Zed’s, some of whom work there on the weekends. It’s a cozy place, located in a freestanding building beside the local library. You can usually smell it from about a block away downwind, as the smells of coffee and sugary pastries drift out.

Sugar & Spice often hosts community events, like book signings or live music from local bands.

Leyla Sugar. Leyla is a baker who felt creatively stifled working at a grocery store bakery. With a loan from her parents, she started her own shop, Sugar & Spice. To celebrate its first profitable year, just three years after opening, she legally changed her surname to Sugar. A pin depicting the lesbian pride flag is permanently attached to her apron, right beside her name and pronouns.

Hyperspace! Cards & Comics

Located at the base of an apartment building downtown, Hyperspace is your number one source for trading cards, imported action figures and comics. They also sell snacks and drinks at a high markup.

Hyperspace is somewhat poorly lit, and some of the older Stellar Conflict action figures are covered in dust, but it’s charming in its own way.

Every Friday night, Hyperspace hosts tournaments for the popular card game Dolls & Dreams.

Ali al-Younan, owner: Ali is a middle-aged Arab man who made a small fortune in the construction industry. Now he runs Hyperspace, the local hangout for the various factions of nerdery. He’s quite boisterous and welcoming, and often spends a little too much time talking about comic book minutiae with the customers.

Ziyaad “Zee” al-Younan, part-timer: Ali’s son, Ziyaad, works here on the weekends. When he’s not here, he can usually be found on the Oak Grove campus or in downtown bars. He’s got a good head for math and is quite handsome.

Bradley Matthews, local champion. Brad Matthews is a chubby fellow who wears anime t-shirts and is the regional champion for Dolls & Dreams. He has a metal briefcase full of decks, including his tournament winning Psychoactive Mansion deck. He’s a little arrogant but not bad overall.

The Capitol

In the heart of Rowding sits a large Beaux-Arts style building on a promontory. This is the Capitol, or “the Cap” to locals. The Capitol is a symmetrical T-shaped building with a large, central dome over a rotunda. Around the Capitol sits a decent amount of park land, dotted with memorials and statues.

Underneath the Capitol’s grounds is a maze of tunnels. Some are publicly accessible, leading to certain exhibits or public transit connections, but others are blocked off. Most of those date back to the Cold War, leading to the Capitol’s bomb shelter or to communications centers. The Cold War tunnels aren’t used for much these days, but plenty of old documents and technology from the era still sits within them.

Governor Jack Kinsey. A middle-aged, larger fellow from a few states over, Governor Kinsey runs the state in a way best described as “inept.” He funnels money to his friends, ignores his constituents and hands out earplugs when representatives from the other party are talking. Unfortunately for the people of Rowding and its surrounding state, both industrial and criminal interests find it very convenient to have this buffoon in charge.

Agent Isaac Fox. In a tube of liquid far beneath the Capitol floats the body of Isaac Fox, an FBI agent who mostly died in 1953 after accidental contact with a stolen Russian prototype weapon. The greatest minds of the time decided to shove his body into this suspension tube, until such a time as they could save his life. Since then, the tube has been entirely forgotten about, and it sits deep beneath the Capitol, waiting for some lost employee or desperate thief to find it.

Hold on, so what do I do with Agent Fox?
Agent Fox can fit into nearly any campaign. Perhaps our heroes have to break into the Capitol to find some sort of document, and they stumble across the suspension tube with an agent time forgot in it. Maybe it’s not in the Capitol, maybe it’s in Crystalightning. Either way, Agent Fox can be a handy tool for delivering plot exposition (The last thing I remember is seeing the Crystal of Azarethoth, which had been captured by the turbo-communists!) or general hijinks (the man was, after all, suspended in goop for just under 60 years).

Eastwood

Eastwood is the rough part of town. On the eastern end is the Steelyard, the economic heart of the area. To the west, downtown. The decline of the Steelyard’s production has impacted this area severely, with many families now facing hard times, and some people turning to more dubious employment.

Spade’s

On the western edge of Eastwood, below a strip mall, sits Spade’s Pool Hall. Up until two years ago, it was the office of an advertising firm. Now, an unsavory crowd hangs out here day and night, and there’s usually at least two motorbikes parked by the stairwell to the main door.

Spade’s itself is a surprisingly spacious and well-lit place, with a couple of pool tables and a bumper pool table on one side of the main room. The rest of the room, aside from the bar, is filled with tables and booths. Several of the tables have knife marks and blood stains on them. The “bar” itself is little more than a few office desks bolted together, with a rack of drinks behind it.

Rick Spade, “businessman.” Rick Spade (real name Oliver Spalding) is a black-haired man who runs the haven for gangsters and ne’er-do-wells known as “Spade’s.” He runs Spade’s as a money laundering operation, helping turn criminals’ money into apparently-legitimate income.

Gavin Le, bartender. Gavin’s a simple man who makes a good Tequila Sunrise and pretends not to notice how much shady business goes on around him. He doesn’t particularly like it, but the job pays the bills and most nights, the folks don’t get too rowdy.

Alyssa Kane, waitress. Alyssa works at Spade’s to cover her tuition at Oak Grove, where she studies chemistry. She’s made it very clear that anybody from Spade’s who tries to talk to her off-shift will suffer for it.

The Steelyard

A mammoth industrial area on the edge of town, in line with the tracks. Has slowly been encroached by commercial buildings, but the gigantic central steel processing plant is still operational, day and night. The interior is a claustrophobic, winding maze of machinery, ducts, vats, belts and sparks. The exterior is a rough-looking building, obviously expanded several times. Its windows glow a dull orange at all times. A few decrepit warehouses and industrial buildings dot the property.

Crystalightning, Inc.

Located in a building once used by the Steelyard, and completely unreachable by bus, sits Crystalightning’s complex. A large factory surrounded by storage buildings. There are plenty of bubbling chemical vats in the factory.

Crystalightning is, in theory, a medical technology company. Their entire business plan relied on using strange crystal interactions to quickly and accurately test people’s blood. Unfortunately, while they managed to recase a bread maker and lie to investors long enough to get money, it turned out their entire premise was wrong. Now, they have large financial obligations, no way to meet them, and a large amount of chemicals and manufacturing equipment.

With the time-tested combination of book cooking and drug selling, Levi Haas, the owner, hopes to dig his way out of this horrible hole.

Levi Haas, the big dog trying desperately to save his company and keep up his ritzy lifestyle. Levi founded Crystalightning with investor money, promising to revolutionize the world of blood tests, and has so far entirely failed to deliver on that. All he can do now is find more money and convince his employees to sell drugs to keep the lights on.

Karlen “V” Vishnevetsky, accountant. V is a recent accounting program graduate. She took a job at Crystalightning, taking a relatively low pay in return for stock options. Unfortunately for her, things only got worse from there, as she begun to realize that the company’s income made no sense compared to the amount of product that they were actually moving (which is to say, none.)

Nylen Fowers, mad scientist. Keeps a picture of a Utah Utes football team on his desk. He’s one of the offense positions. He would quite like to be designing dangerous turbo-scorpions or something, but he’s been strong-armed into overseeing the company’s illicit drug operations instead. Of course, as a man of ambition, he’s also been synthesizing new drugs, like “red rock,” an addictive euphoric. Named for its red, rocky appearance.

Mad Scientist character token

Steve’s Autobody

Steve’s is a vehicle repair shop in Eastwood, with three bays and plenty of cheap parts. The service is decent, the couches in the waiting area are only a little stained, and the coffee is complimentary.

Just behind Steve’s, however, is a warehouse. Vehicles go in on a regular basis, but rarely come back out, because it’s a chop shop. Vehicles, usually but not always stolen, are dropped off here to be stripped for parts and scrap metal. Some of the parts are used at Steve’s for repairs, others are sold off to more legitimate shops.

Heidi Hawkins, owner. Heidi is a skinny, half-Indian woman with a pixie cut. Her father was Steve Hawkins, original owner of this shop, and now she runs it. She’s just as likely to be manning the front as she is to be down in the trench fixing something. She comes from a large family, something that causes trouble just as often as it helps her.

Heidie Hawkins character token

Jason “Jay” Ellis, gold-toothed mechanic. Jay is a tall black man with a buzzcut and a prominent gold front tooth. He has a deep fondness for classical music, and it can often be heard playing over the shop’s PA when he’s working. He spent a few years in the military, and doesn’t really like talking about it.

Alice Vishnevetsky, welder. Alice is a tall, lanky woman with curly red hair. She dropped out of high school a few years ago, and got a job here as a result of going to school with one of Heidi’s sisters. Now she’s got a welding ticket and a little money in the bank, but she’s sticking to working at Steve’s for now. It’s just illegal enough to be fun, after all.

Local Gangs

Sabers MC

A biker gang with a pair of crossed sabers for their logo.

Wants: To run the city’s drug-running operations, to avoid law enforcement

The Sabers are a group of goons working out of Spade’s. They can be hired for most any kind of work, as long as it’s illegal. Their connections with Rick Spade and a corrupt officer in the local police force keep them more or less safe while they rip around town carrying illicit substances.

Leo “Boss” Ryan, a thin but muscular man with a cigarette perpetually in his mouth. Boss Ryan comes from the classic criminal background: Broken home, poverty, all that fun stuff. Now that he’s big and strong, he’s going to take what he thinks the world owes him.

Kayson “Case” Chen, a big bruiser with a fondness for hitting things with a pipe. Case is the very epitome of “I’m here for a good time, not a long one,” indulging in chemical pleasures and violence whenever he can.

Kayson Chen character token

The Rebel Rats

Another biker gang, with a red-eyed rat for a logo.

Wants: To screw around and get paid to do it, to be respected.

Kyle “Hammer” Jones. Hammer Jones is a blond man with a nice bike. He claims he’s got multiple convictions for assault with a deadly weapon (a hammer, obviously), but that’s not actually true.

Avery “Howitzer” Howe. Howitzer Howe is ex-military, a former tanker. His time in The War has left him with some anger issues. He’s got red hair.

Robert “Billy” Bass. Billy is a brown-haired white man with no filter between his lizard brain and his mouth. Billy loves to ride and take drugs.

Encounters
Bikers have taken over the street the party is trying to travel down, doing burnouts and other stunts with a crowd of onlookers. This can be either the Sabers or the Rebel Rats, but it’s slightly more likely to be the Rats.
A disheveled woman approaches the party and asks to buy illegal drugs. If the party stays in the area, this happens again every 10 minutes or so. Same woman, every time.
A short woman approaches the party and asks for a cigarette. If the party declines, she threatens to bring the wrath of God and Satan upon them, before being dragged away by her brother, who apologizes profusely. If the party furnishes her request, she tells them that the guy who runs the nearest corner store is a vampire. Just a head’s up. Then she leaves.
On the sidewalk, a group of people in business suits appear to be having a pleasant discussion with a group of cosplayers.
A major traffic jam, near the venue where local cover band Wett Panffer is playing tonight.
A man who is, somewhat inexplicably, trying to sell comic books to the party on the street out of a long box he’s carrying.

Thanks for reading! What did you think? Would you like to see more cities like this? Let me know below!

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Garmbreak1
Former esports wannabe, current TTRPG streamer and TTRPG creator interviewer. I like science fiction and I have a soft spot for licensed tabletop RPGs. You can find all the campaigns I’m in and interviews I’ve done over on YouTube.

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About the author

Garmbreak1

Former esports wannabe, current TTRPG streamer and TTRPG creator interviewer. I like science fiction and I have a soft spot for licensed tabletop RPGs. You can find all the campaigns I'm in and interviews I've done over on YouTube.

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  1. I am running a campaign of 1985's Judge DREDD RPG and with a little amending this is great stuff indeed!

    Good work, look forward to more!

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Published: December 28, 2021

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