I’ve had this come up a couple times in campaigns I’m running – the players are in a city of some kind and wandering through neighborhoods. Not only do I need to differentiate them from each other in purpose (this is a strip mall, this area is a residential, or the street is lined warehouses, etc) just to give it the feel of a city, but there needs to be an added layer. In a Sci-Fi setting, and especially in a Sci-Fantasy setting, different parts of a city are going to be completely different based on the species of the populace that use (or used, if it’s abandoned for some reason) the place. Allow me to elucidate.
Imagine what a city area created by and for creatures with the innate ability to easily scale trees and other surfaces would look like. Not only is it laid out horizontally, but also with an extensive vertical element. Perhaps there are criss-crossing wires or poles to facilitate going from one side of the street to the 3rd level on the other side easily. Of course, it would be a bit of a nightmare for flying creatures to navigate (see wires and poles) and is going to involve a whole lot of Athletics checks to climb from more earth bound species.
And speaking of flying creatures, how about an area inhabited by natural fliers. Would there be a street at all? A ground level? Far more likely it is very vertical, with virtually no ground access. Everything, from doors to shelves, is laid out in a 3D way with extensive use of the Y axis. It’s going to be hell for characters without access to some form of flight to navigate.
Beyond locomotion, what about differences in sight? We see this some in fantasy, with how dwarven and drow cities are largely made to cater to beings with inherent darkvision. So how would a place where the inhabitants have a broader spectrum of sight be different? Just look at bees. Because of their ability to see into the UV spectrum a whole range of plants use vibrant colors to signal to them. So signage would involve some or all of the information being presented outside human range of vision. For species not gifted with similar abilities, navigating in this space would be like being color blind in a modern day world.
Imagine you have the innate ability to sense other beings minds, read impressions of previous activity, and sense events just before they happen. Now imagine a whole marketing industry able to take advantage of that extra sensory gift. Psychic neighborhoods probably look pretty drab to species without the ability to sense the wealth of information being presented to the natives. Psychic billboards, signs, ads that leap out of their frame and tell you a whole story, compared to non-psychic neighborhoods it must seem almost like sensory overload. Psychic species probably think the places where their non-psychic friends live are shockingly quiet.
This is just a light exploration of the idea, but feel free to expand on it in your own games. Adding these touches can make your game more grounded, and more memorable!
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Until next time Starfinders!
Artist and Writer