I had the beautiful experience of visiting Chester, England today. It borders Wales, on the River Dee. It dates back to the Roman Era, with some businesses even having Roman baths under them, and Roman ruins on display at parts of the city. It also boasts a city wall in excellent condition, the best in England I believe, and a town crier.
But NewbieDM, what does this have to do with RPG’s, you ask? Well, for one, actually walking around and seeing up close a city that goes back (and past) the era that most fantasy RPG’s try to capture gives you some insights into how a town of the era may function. The descriptions of the town wall may be more vivid, the shapes and sizes of the buildings may be more accurate, the width of the roads, etc…
Just by walking around the place I gathered ideas for a possible locale for the PC’s, and a little flavor can go a long way in nice, memorable descriptions. For example, the city gates had names, and a Roman era heating system can be adapted and updated to the middle ages with a little tinkering. I could surely use those in my descriptions or encounters.
One of the most famous sights in Chester are the Rows, which can suruly be adapted and used in RPG’s.
“In Chester, the Rows are a system of walkways that form continuous covered galleries running above shops at street level. They occur in all four main streets in the city centre, so there are shops at two levels. Although the Row buildings have been re-built and altered over many centuries, they represent a building form that originated in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.”
I can see many cool chases and fights already.
In closing, if you ever happen to be in Europe and are taken a stroll through a medieval town, keep you eyes, ears, and senses all open to suggestions on how being there can help you in your rpg’s. Being there can undoubtedly help you in ways no fluffy d20 book can ever hope to.