The City Guard Campaign

We all know the powergamer creed - once you're powerful enough, you're totally above the law. The City Guard ranks swell with people who want to make a difference, but can't quite get the Adventuring thing under control. Those who can't face down Tiamat end up keeping the peace in Nowheresburg.

"Snowy Guard"
by symatt
What if we flip that on its head? What if your party is the City Guard version of a SWAT team? What if the campaign involves keeping the peace and getting rewarded for creative problem-solving involving vastly superior antagonists?

Your standard City Guard playbook reads like this:
Step 1: Restore and maintain the peace.
Step 2: Figure out the situation.
Step 3: Make things right.
But within that framework lies worlds of possibilities.

Sure, resupplying adventurers make up a huge percentage of antagonists in a city, but you can spread in more common criminals like cutpurses and bar brawlers. Magical types add a whole new dimension to calls, whether that's summoned critters, walls of fire, or charmed people.

Cultists seem common, but what laws are they breaking if they just worship their dark gods in the privacy of their own secret basements? What about foreign nationals? Are they in town illegally or planning a strike against their enemies?

And let's not forget the big players in a city. What agreement would the City Guard have with the local Thieves' Guild? Does the mayor and his family get special treatment from the Guard? If a merchant guild controls the wealth in a city, does that guild also control the City Guard?

Crimes and The Law
A common baseline for crime includes trespassing, bodily harm, and theft. Just these three leave plenty of room for interpretation, which could make for some interesting in-game debates. If a merchant leaves his cellar shaft uncovered and someone else falls in, should the merchant pay for healing services? Does the merchant collect damages if the person breaks a cask of ale in the fall?

What laws does the city enforce? Does the city collect tariffs on imports? At what age do children become adults, or it it more of a function of gainful employment? Does the guard get involved with fraud and forgery or is the standing rule "Caveat Emptor"? Can people be taken into custody for vagrancy by hanging around on the street for "too long"? Is there a concept of immigration or does the city welcome everyone in?What about limits on alcohol and drug use?

Who declares war? Are there special rules for enemy combatants? What about enemy civilians? What actions would constitute treason? Does the City Guard enforce rules of war, or would a national power step in for those cases? Could a turf war break out over jurisdiction in a specific case?
What's the standard kit?

What's the law structure in the city? Is there a magistrate or other court system? Does the government empower the City Guard to handle justice on their own? Do the people trust the City Guard or does corruption run rampant in the ranks?

What backup can the Guard call up? How do they communicate? What powers do they have to keep people in line? In the modern world, handguns give law enforcement significant power over normal people. Is there an analog in a fantasy world that won't turn it into a Monty Hall game?

What enforcement powers does the City Guard wield? Are guards limited in their purview or can they commandeer helpful items in the field? Can they deputize citizens to help with a manhunt? Can they detain, punish, or even kill in the field without oversight?

More Questions
These questions should get your juices flowing, but I don't see an end to them. A campaign like this would need more work up front to define the city, its laws, and its judicial process. After that, it would be easy to run with whoever shows up to a session. Continuity and hooking specific crimes together into sprees or waves makes sense as a short arc, and going after a crime boss would make a hell of a campaign.

Have you tried running something like this before? How did it go? What problems did you run into?

If you run a City Guard campaign, I'd love to hear how it turns out for you. Note that this idea is somewhat related to Sarah Darkmagic's Reclaim Riverbend campaign idea, so for a slightly different city building campaign set on the frontier go check that out.

Thanks for reading!


  1. A fictional example of adventurers as City Guard can be found in Simon Green's "Hawk and Fisher" stories. They would be a good source of inspiration for this type of game.

    1. I'll need to look that up. Thanks for the pointer!