In most world building scenarios your players will end up in cities frequently and if you don’t do enough prep work all your cities can end up looking about the same. There are many different GMing philosophies on this but I’m going to share what’s worked for me.
When I first started I tried to map out every single house in each town. I ended up with very small towns, which isn’t always a bad thing but definitely not something you want all the time. This tactic made villages seem more homey. I knew each character, it was easy to know exactly what dynamics where going on in the town, and it took a lot of the improv work out. I still use this for small fishing villages and really most towns that aren’t major cities.
Larger cities are a bit more difficult though. You want to give an idea of scale while also not mapping out every character, or anywhere near that, and spending all your time on planning and none on playing. So I’ve slowly made a compromise. In many cities there are certain areas for certain things. The downtown area tends to be where government buildings are along with any headquarters or major businesses. Along the main roads are going to be a lot of trade areas. There will generally be poorer housing towards the center of the town, middle income housing just outside of that, and the rich housing generally in a certain section of town farthest away from the others. In a highly religious culture churches may replace some of the shops on the main thoroughfare and in less religious places the churches will be scattered with one or two large ones for the rich and many small ones dotting the poorer areas. Only for particularly special or amazing buildings do I actually put them on the map, other than that everything that would fit into that category is just generally in whichever area it fits best into.
As for how the towns are laid out others may see the world differently then me, and they may be more correct as I’ve not officially studied this, but the idea is to take ideas from the real world and how cultures in it similar to your fantasy ones behave. I usually have general areas and only know which areas main NPC’s live without ever marking exactly where they live. I try to time out how far it would take to travel from one place to another by how many miles I think it would be so it gives players a bit more of a sense of scale to the place. The culture to the cities is up to you. Few cities are uniform in culture, but there often are trends. I try to get the general feel and then have certain people play against their culture and others be immersed in it.
Finally you add your main NPC’s. I don’t think you need to have everyone mapped out. If there’s crime I try to get an idea of what major crime families and who their main players are, same with government and policing officials. Then I move to who else I think the party might interact with or could be an interesting product of the culture of the city. Once I have my main NPC’s mapped out, usually there’s about 15-20 per large city, I make a list of random the names to use in a pinch. I hopefully now have an idea of how the cultural dynamics works to the extent that if the players go in a surprising direction I’m always prepared with a name and can usually figure out a character as it comes. I always mark down and make a note next to names I’ve used. I also try to keep a few spare NPC ideas in my head for such occasions, that way random NPC’s aren’t too bland or too zany compared to my other NPC’s.
What are your tips and tricks for building cities and towns? Have any cities or cultures you’re particularly proud of? Leave your ideas, thoughts, and stories in the comment section below for others to see.
[tags] Dungeons and Dragons, Fantasy, Role Playing Games, World Building[/tags]