"By the Gods, what is that delicious smell?!?!" said Pila, eyes closed as he inhaled deeply.
Jeram smiled wickedly, the grin of a man who knew what pleasures lie before him, and knowing too that his friend was about to start a journey from which there was no return.
"Easy Pila, easy. That's the roasted agurra you smell...it's spicy, meaty char is only the first of many deloicacies here. There's the huthrooth casserole, chella tart, and oofung tea...sweet with honey and cinnamon. Hell, now you've got me salivating too." Jeram closed his eyes tightly, and the two friends stood still a few doors from the small colorful stall. Jeram recovered quickly and grabbed Pila by the arm, "I told you I was going to feed you, now come on, before all the seats are taken and we need to stand at the counter with the Gara!"
Pila's eyes shot open, "Oh, the Gara! Geez Jeram, are you sure it's safe? Those tall bastards weren't so nice when we visited them last time. What makes you think they will be ok with us at their stall?"
Jeram shook his head. "Those were tribesmen of the valley Pila, and we were stealing their golden idol, you remember, the one with the big sapphire eyes? These are transplants, refugees from the Horde. They've been civilized, mostly, and their evening feast is not a thing to be missed. It's fine. I've been here four...no five times now. My coin is as good as any, and the agurra is worth the risk. C'mon, before we end up standing next to some tall warrior with no manners!"
Jeram took off at a brisk pace. Pila was concerned, and took a deep breath. Roasted agurra filled his nose and he swallowed the smell deeply. To hell with danger, he thought...I'm starving!
Sure, the darker side of town is where you meet your contact, the one who has the info on that job. Perhaps it's where you know you can acquire that dangerous weapon, the one that the city guard would throw you in the dungeon if they caught you with it. It's even the place you got jumped by footpads that last game..those bastards left you for dead and took your last bit of gold and your new boots!
The bad side of town, the wharf, wherever in your games towns and cities you put the dark element, is a place that players know well...hell, some of them gravitate directly there once inside the city walls, but that side of town is good for more. Much more.
The 'bad' side of town, where the housing is cheap and the poor, ignorant suckers live, is actually one of the best things to happen to me personally, and my players in a long time. Within the seeder section of town you can find some of the best food, rare and foreign delicacies, strange and interesting clothes, music, items...it's a treasure trove of secret worlds, all brought together under the banner of poverty.
[When I want a great, authentic Caribbean cuisine experience in my city, I go to where I know those folks live. It may not be the prettiest place, but that oxtail is damn tasty!]
Below is my short list of things the 'bad' side of town has to offer:
- Ethnic restaurants
- rare spices
- hand-made goods, of strange and unusual ethnic origin
- cheap, often highly skilled labor
- trade goods that have not seeped into mainstream local mercantilism
But, what else can I (the GM) do in this part of town? A neat shopping trip is one thing, but my guys want action!
Did the party just steal the Lord Mayor's magical silver seal of office? They can get out of town, but maybe it makes more sense to lay low in the dregs for a bit, and those folks ain't talking to the cops. Nope.
Of course. I know. The players are bored spending their gold. So what sort of stranger fun and trouble can be found on the other side of the 'tracks'?
Well, it's a great place for people to hide from prying eyes. You need the players to find that crazy old wizard who cuts up things and magically mends them back together in odd shapes? He's living in that part of town.
Where does that guy who will buy anything, regardless of origin, do his work? Yep, in the back of that ethnic restaurant, the one with the strange black drink made from weird roots that tastes like licorice. Those weird folks from the jungle let him rent a booth...no one bothers him there, and the guards are scared to death of those snake worshiping jungle people.
How about that fellow they accused of all those murders last summer? They never did catch him, and they aren't even sure he did it.
Thinking about learning the art of the Hooked Sword of the Gara? Only they can teach you it's intricacies, and they live in a small enclave on 'that' side of town.
You mean there's a guy selling children? That's horrible...and he lives behind the livestock abattoir? Oh, that's not a nice part of town, but hell, we gotta stop that shady business!
Anyway, you get my point. The bad side of town isn't necessarily bad. It's a great opportunity to add color and life to the gray and brown boredom that most towns and cities portray. A city adventure can be as much, if not more fun than that dungeon delve, if you just remember to bring it to life with the people who make it interesting. Not just the innkeeper, the general store owner, and the smith. Too often, town is just a place that the players take their characters to sell off, load up, and head back out. There's a world of wonder ready to dig into, a place as strange and mysterious as any forgotten castle in the swamp.
Every day, poor folks are living, working, and scratching out an existence on the 'bad' side of town. They have lives, families, traditions, foods, and they want to share it all with the people who live and work near them.
Share it with your players.