I just stumbled across a History of Midkemia Press. Back in 1979 they put out their Cities book, which was a resource for characters conducting urban adventures who needed encounters and events in between adventures. It was a great resource. Most of the urban adventures in those days, and probably a lot of them now, highlighted thief characters. The adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in the city of Lankhmar was the most obvious model for these. Conan the Barbarian was a thief for a time and his adventures in Arenjun (“City of Thieves”), where he decided to steal the Heart of the Elephant, was another archetype for players. Robert Asprin’s Thieve’s World was popular for a couple of years, and spawned a Thieves World campaign setting from Chaosium and a few adventures. Turns out that Midkemia Press were the ones who wrote the campaign setting for Thieves World. Makes sense! Another resource for city adventures was the Flashing Blades game from Fantasy Games Unlimited, which was centered around Musketeer adventures in Paris. It included rules for advancing through the ranks of the Musketeers (or the Cardinal’s Guards) and for events in between major adventures. There was also a set of adventures for a game called Thieves’ Guild, which was another D&D offshoot, this time from Gamelords. All of the adventures centered around thievery — 2nd story jobs, con games, assassination, bank robberies, jewel heists, etc. It was a great resource, and the same company also put out a city campaign called Free City of Haven, along with additional data in Secrets of the Labyrinth.
Of course, the best of the rpg cities was the City State of the Invincible Overlord, or at least that’s how I remember it.At the time it was the biggest city that had come out, and could fuel and support adventures for a couple of years. We ran all over the city following one rumor after another, ran through the sewers in our battles with the thieves’ guild, and from time to time left the city to go on a standard dungeon crawl. Like a lot of the early stuff, it is back in print, and you can buy it at DriveThruRPG. You can also download a Street Guide to the City State. There was also a City State of the World Emperor that followed, but although it was a bigger map and better designed, it didn’t have the energy that the first City State did. Or maybe by then we were sated. Cities are fun, but the number of social difficulties one can get oneself into are enormous. Dungeon crawls take a lot less thinking!