Somewhere out there on that horizon,
Out beyond the neon lights,
I know there must be somethin' better,
But there's nowhere else in sight.
It's survival in the city
When you live from day to day;
City streets don't have much pity,
When you're down, that's where you'll stay.
(from) In the City The Eagles
A city is an urban area of greater magnitude than a town, usually without much in the way of primary production and instead devoted to industry and/or commerce.
The actual boundary between being a town and being a city varies - in some places, it is merely a matter of the number of permanent residents, in others it requires a formal charter (much like that often required historically of a town) before it can be "promoted". In English tradition, a city has generally required a cathedral - and vice versa - leading to the phenomenon of "cathedral cities", which are cities only because they have one, and for other purposes are little more than large towns.
Generally, however, a city will be a large centre of population with significant commercial and cultural activity. They are also places with a significant degree of anonimity (generally absent in smaller communities) which foster greater social developement and mobility. As against that they are typically far more expensive to live in than (for example) the countryside and are likely to exhibit significant contrasts between those that benefit from all the city has to offer and those who mainly suffer its costs.
In political terms, a city is usually an entity unto itself and outside the control of local power centres - this may mean answering directly to the king (in a feudal state), being a region in its own right (such as a metropolitan county) or even being an independant state (historically known as a "City State"). This, coupled with their financial and industrial muscle can make them important players in political conflicts - albiet balanced against their requirement for imported food and thus reliance on their hinterland.
Of course, for most of history, cities have generally been fairly small - giants like Rome, Constantinople and Baghadad were rare and exceptional, requiring unusual coincidence of circumstances (including the ability to import massive amounts of food) - the average pre-modern city would be tiny to a modern urban dweller1 and large cities would need to wait for the agricultural revolution, industrialisation and mass transport. When the population of a large city drops off sharply, Urban Prairie is liable to form.
Like towns, a pre-modern city will usually demand some kind of water access for trade and industry.
Game and Story Use
- Urban adventuring is a very different kettle of fish to traditional fantasy adventures, generally requiring a different type of character, not all players take to this well.
- Cities are occasionally personified and may develop a genius loci (or, in a polytheisitic setting, their own god(s)), which may have very interesting effects. If nothing else, the spirit population of a city may be as large and chaotic as its human one, making the life of an urban shaman … interesting ….
- There is also the possibility of the urban druid (in the fantasy RPG sense, if not the historical one).
- The anonymity of urban life gives great potential for all sorts of things to hide and the sort of cultural churn they create is ideal for spawning mythagos.