Working in the downtown region of a moderately-sized city, I hear my share of sirens. Even as I drove home, we had to pause for at least two different sets of emergency vehicles. One of these vehicles was an ambulance, and it sparked a memory of one of my favorite (non Sci-Fi or Fantasy) movies to come out of the 1970s - Mother, Jugs, & Speed.
While I doubt you could make a movie with that title these days, they did in 1976, and it starred Bill Cosby, Harvey Keitel, Raquel Welch, Larry Hagman, & Bruce Davidson (among others). Go ahead and read the Wiki about it right here before we continue.
You might be wondering how a dark comedy like this could spark the idea for an Dungeons & Dragons setting, but as I break it down, you should be able to see that the basic plot of this film could be the basis of a very dynamic and unique urban campaign.
Okay. So let's get some basics out of the way. If you linked over to the Wiki to read about the movie, you'll realize that the basic plot is about a struggling ambulance company trying to compete with a better funded organization for a city contract. The members of the struggling company all have their fair share of demons, and the realities of "life in the city" lead to dark and humorous adventures. The members of the struggling company, "F & B Ambulance" face challenges both from their occupation as ambulance workers and the organization that employs them.
If you're still trying to put these two things (city ambulance company and Dungeons & Dragons) together, that's okay. Let me walk you through it, piece by piece. I'll set out the main elements of the story (as presented by the movie), and then I'll discuss how I'd handle these for a fantasy setting. Ready?
Let's do this.
MJ&S: Takes place in the city.
Campaign: No problem here. Urban settings for fantasy games are popular and fun to play. Visit Lankhmar, Waterdeep, or Robert Asprin's "Thieves' World". This would be another great city. Perhaps it could be used as a city to drop into anyone's campaign. The city would probably have some of what I would call "high magic" elements, although it would work in a "low magic" environment as well.
MJ&S: Characters are employees (of varying backgrounds) who work as EMTs for a private ambulance company.
Campaign: There are several ways to take this, but why not go for a direct translation here. Characters are employees of a city healing service. If healing is the milieu of religion, then the competing groups might be different temples trying to gain followers by showing the city ruler who is best at healing (which also potentially gains them converts). Imagine is temples began to engage in a "War of Healing". What would that look like? On the other hand, if the competing groups are guilds or similar type businesses, they simply might be gunning for the most coin. Rescued people pay a fee to be assisted by the healing service. Where there's money, there's conflict.
MJ&S: The characters in the movie often arrive at an injury scene where danger is unfolding.
Campaign: Well, this situation pretty much defines the meat of an encounter, right? Healing services might arrive to rescue somebody while the encounter is in progress, the enemy blasting away. Perhaps a rival company arrives at the same time, and snipes at the characters' group, in order to gain the rescue fee.
MJ&S: Some of the more experienced characters have nicer ambulances and equipment.
Campaign: Efficiently designed wagons serve as the ambulances in this campaign. Perhaps as the characters gain levels or tiers, their wagons are given special abilities or even more equipment. Maybe the animals that pull the wagons are better (or even intelligent!). Perhaps DMs can give their players the opportunity to "trick out" their character's wagons for different benefits.
MJ&S: The characters have EMT training which gives them first aid skills.
Campaign: Characters might be actual healers (clerics, paladins, etc.). Or, in a low magic campaign, perhaps the healers use an actual "heal" skill of some kind. In a world where alchemy is common, potions & other substances might enhance "normal" healing, and would be carried by the characters. In either case, the character's main job is that of search and rescue (which is actually a little beyond the straight-forward task of the EMT).
That's just a few of the major elements that can be easily translated from this modern story to a fantasy type environment. However, there are a few things that need to be addressed for such a campaign setting to work well.
1) In the modern world, people call for help with phones. In most fantasy settings, instant communication would almost have to be the purview of magic users. At the least, some form of device would have to enable that kind of "summoning" for help. Maybe utilization of the artificer class (as per Eberron) could fill this gap. Be prepared to have your city use this kind of communication for other uses.
2) In most fantasy settings, healing is the purview of clerics and other classes for whom faith is a power source. While "civilian" injuries could probably use an ambulance service, would adventuring parties ever have need of one? Would the current rules for some games (particularly 4e) need to have some kind of modification to the death & dying rules? Without teleportation, how do ambulance crews get to the injured party before they die?
3) A good campaign setting should really utilize all types of character classes. Healers are an obvious choice, but fighters, magic-users, thieves, and others will want to be a part of the team. What kinds of scenarios can a city generate enough of, for these classes to be a legitimate part of an ambulance crew?
Well, what do you think? This is really just a rough outline. This idea has sparked such a keen interest, I might be looking to self-publish this idea as a campaign setting. I've never done that before, but this idea is unique enough, it might drive some interest.
Oh...before I go...I want to give a special shout-out to Quinn Murphy over at At-Will. After I introduced this idea over Twitter this morning, he was really helpful at amplifying those brain microwaves to really get this idea cooking. If you haven't visited his blog, for Pelor's sake, please go do that. He's big-times. You'll find a wealth of great info over there.
Further bulletins on this project as ideas develop.
Until next time...
Game excellently with one another.