I'm surprised that some folks don't do very much role playing in towns and cities - some don't do any, opting to quickly gloss over the mundane affairs of outfitting, carousing, gossiping with the locals, and all manner of non-dungeoneering sorts of things.
Even without frequent combat, the above ground interaction with your own species seems wonderfully pregnant with possibilities, and not just with plot hooks to get the players back into yet another dungeon further down the road. This type of adventure creation might be more demanding than underground design. Maintaining the interest of the players by creating NPCs with depth and personality, good plot lines, motivations, intrigue and politics, all of these are more akin to just good fiction or theater writing. I don't mean to demean good dungeon design at all, but I'm surprised at how many people just write off town and city gaming completely. I've gone back and forth on it myself, but in the end and speaking personally, it seems like simple laziness that makes me want to mostly avoid above ground design. And I don't mean that the majority of gaming shouldn't be in our favorite underground haunts, but I do admire those attempts I've seen at good design above it, or even just attempts at all.
Some of this came up during tonight's game with the retreat/return for R&R to town. Dropping off a hireling (who'd had enough of dungeoneering after watching his friend burn to death/turn to slime), looking for new ones, dividing the loot, upgrading and replacing equipment, carousing, taking note of suspicious characters... All of these were fun little diversions that could have been tedious but that allowed some interaction with NPCs and foreshadowing - it helps that there's a certain paranoia in the air that evil is undercover in town as well as existing down there in the dungeon.
What has bugged me slightly are the short time periods we've had for gaming lately - I really think at least several hours are needed to really get into the feel and flow of the game. An hour here or there is ok for maintaining the integrity of the campaign by not letting too much time go by between sessions, but it's no substitute for caffeine fueled marathon gaming.
Update: Just to add a plug for Sean Will's Cities of Swords and Sorcery. I've been meaning to get this for a while and just put in my order for a print copy - not sure if I'll use it directly, but I'm sure at minimum it will help inspire and encourage my own urban designs).
Preparing to Descend
3 hours ago