A System for Creating Fantasy Hamlets, Villages, Towns, Cities, Metropolises…

This system is designed to help you create interesting, detailed, and memorable fantasy settlements on the fly.

Overview

town_lathans_gold_xsolo_page_14_comp_largeCreating Simple Settlements

If you just need to create a rough sketch of the settlement, simply follow steps 1 and 2.

1. Roll for a Theme.
2. Roll for a Memorable Feature.

Creating Detailed Settlements

If you want to paint a more detailed portrait of your fantasy settlement, proceed to steps 3, 4, and 5.

3. Determine the Settlement Layout.
4. Determine the various District Types and locations.
5. Roll for a Memorable Feature for each District

Lastly, you’ll want to name your settlement.  For inspiration, you might want to take a whirl through my Tables for Creating Fantasy Location Names.

If you want to see some examples of how this system works, you might want to check out:

Ok – Enough preamble – let’s get to it! 

You’ll need a pencil, a piece of paper, and some ordinary six-sided dice.

Creating a Fantasy Settlement

Step 1: Settlement Theme

Roll 1d, 1d to determine the settlement Theme.  (Need a die roller?)

Note: If you’re using the full world design system on this site, then before you roll for a Theme, roll 1d.  (Need a die roller?) On a 4+, the settlement has the same Theme as the Region it’s in.

Settlement Themes

Roll 1d, 1d.  (Need a die roller?)

1-2 1 Beautiful
2 Cultured
3 Dangerous
4 Haunted
5 Historical
6 Infernal
3-4 1 Magical
2 Militaristic
3 Oppressed
4 Poor
5 Religious
6 Rich
5-6 1 Safe
2 Underworld
3-6 Choose any or none

Step 2: Memorable Features

Give the settlement as a whole a single memorable feature.

It’s good practice to relate the Memorable Feature to the Theme -For instance, if a “Militaristic” town has an “Impressive Building,” it may well be the town walls or citadel.

Roll 1d, 1d and consult the tables below.  (Need a die roller?)

Memorable Features – 1-2

Roll Feature Some spurs to thought
1-2 1 Communal Desire The people of this settlement have some sort of strong collective desire – of course not everyone feels this way, but most people seem to.  Maybe the general feeling is that the village needs to grow and expand in order to survive; or, on the contrary, maybe the general feeling is that outsiders should stay away, since only true locals really belong.  Perhaps the general feeling is that the city needs to make war with its sister-city across the sea, or that things will only get better when the Red Priesthood finally leaves town, or that the future lies in Caravan trade across the Painted Desert, or that the village really needs a new church tower to be considered respectable, or that…
1-2 2 Distinctive Architecture This settlement has been built in an unusual or distinctive architectural style.  Perhaps the houses are all whitewashed, or roofed in slate, or dwarf-built even though the population is human, or made of bamboo, or constructed around atriums open to the sky, or daubed with green pigment, or raised high on stilts, or or built with extensive cellars, or…   Are the buildings all the same, or all different?  Are they built using unusual materials?  Are the doorways square, round, arched, or angled?  Is there a local cultural aesthetic?  What does the skyline look like, and is the typical roof peaked, domed, conical, flat, curved, crenellated, or spiked?
1-2 3 Famous Person or Group The settlement is known for its association with a famous person or organization.  Perhaps it has a renowned local hero, or a legendary figure supposedly founded it, or it’s the birthplace of the First Ecclesiarch, or the oracles say that it is in this village that the Sapphire Sorceress will one day be reborn.  Maybe admirers of Sr John of Winton come here to pay respects to his grave, or else pilgrims come to touch the holy relic of St Athlin and be cured.  Perhaps the town is named after someone important who never came here, or there’s a big, impressive statue of the founder in the market square.  Maybe a famous order of chivalry makes its home here, or an important political faction is named the Southtorp Alliance since it was here in the village of Southtorp that the famous Treaty of Southtorp was first signed.  Maybe this town is famous as the birthplace of a dark cult or sorcerous society, and now people use its name in the darkest rituals, and playwrights set their plays here to give audiences a chill.  Or perhaps…
1-2 4 Historic Change  This settlement is notable for having been redefined by an important event at some point in its past. Whether this event was centuries ago, or just last week, its effects are still very evident.  It might have been a dramatic change of rulers, a natural disaster, a religious vision, the discovery of easy riches, a devastating war, an exodus of peoples, the arrival of new cultural groups…   Maybe the whole town burned down in the great fire of 1073, or was destroyed by the cataclysm that ended the Phoenix age, and had to be rebuilt.  Maybe it used to be much bigger than it now is, and now the streets feel empty.  Or maybe recent wars have led to a huge influx of refugees, and the place feels overcrowded.  Or perhaps….
1-2 5 Idiosyncratic Government This settlement is governed in a distinctive or unusual way.  Perhaps the local charter stipulates that the Baron can only act with the consent of the board of alders; or maybe the Duchess is nominally in control, but everyone knows that true power resides with the Vintner’s Guild.  Perhaps the Sultan’s edicts are always communicated to the people by a chorus of three-year-old children selected for the purpose – or maybe the city’s licensed beggars must be called in vote on any proposed change in the city laws.  Or maybe…
1-2 6 Impressive Structure The settlement is home to a very impressive structure of some kind: perhaps a manor-house, college of mages, plaza, bridge, barracks, town walls, library, garden, asylum, citadel, fountain, slave market, tavern, statue, mausoleum.…
Memorable Features – 3-4

Roll Feature Some spurs to thought
3-4 1 Internal Conflict The settlement is home to multiple groups who often scheme against one another and/or come to blows.  They could be feuding families, cultures, language groups, criminal organizations, religious congregations, sorcerous societies, social classes, ethnicities, political factions….  Or maybe different kinds of factions vie with one another: the church with the secular authorities, for instance, or perhaps the city folk and the country folk regularly come to blows.
3-4 2 Local Attitude The people of this settlement are remarkable for a particular attitude, mood, or disposition.  Perhaps they’re a gloomy bunch, always looking dour and sullen; or maybe the mood in the town is markedly optimistic, and the people are confident that better things are on the way.  Maybe the people here are particularly deferent to authority – or else proud and rebellious.  Perhaps people of this village are constantly complaining about small things like the weather, and their aching joints, and the smell from the tannery – or perhaps they pride themselves on their stoicism, and would be ashamed to be heard uttering even the slightest complaint..  Maybe they’re a tight-lipped people who use words only when necessary – or maybe this is a city of gossips and babblers, always ready for a drink and a chat.  Or maybe…
3-4 3 Local Cuisine The people of this settlement make a distinctive local cuisine.  Maybe it requires ingredients that can only be found locally, or maybe it’s just the usual ingredients, but prepared in an unusual way.  Perhaps this is just a single signature dish, or spice, or beverage – or perhaps it’s a whole special style of cooking, only performed here.  Perhaps the food is palatable only to locals, and tastes disgusting to most outsiders – or perhaps it’s simply delicious to all.
3-4 4 Local Pastime This settlement is known for its distinctive local form of recreation.  Maybe there’s a card game named after this village, or a tenpin-style lawn game, or a variant of darts.  Perhaps the people of this town love to conduct footraces, or cockfights, or like to go swimming; perhaps the young men of this village regularly beat each other with willow switches while trying to stay balanced on a well-greased log.  Perhaps all the unwed women compete to find the first mushroom of autumn – or perhaps the district is full of sports fans eager to discuss every detail of the latest horse race, wrestling match, or joust.
3-4 5 Relationship with Surrounding Area The settlement has an unusual or important relationship with the surrounding area.  Perhaps the city folk and the country folk belong to different cultures, ethnicities, or political factions; maybe the town is somehow practically independent of thee surrounding are, or even more reliant on resources from the surrounding countryside than is usual; maybe the people of this town tend to be very suspicious of the people of the next town over.  Or maybe the settlement’s location within the surrounding area gives it special significance: it’s at an important crossroads, sacred well, caravan route, confluence of ley lines, annual meeting place for nomads….
3-4 6 Special Event The settlement is known for a regular event of some kind.  Perhaps a harvest festival, weekly market day, annual tournament, monthly sacred ritual….  Maybe the Spring Solstice is the time when all the local nomads come here to trade and marry – or perhaps the villagers sacrifice a chicken to placate the werewolves each full moon.  Perhaps this city’s Friday Market is renowned throughout the Scarlet Kingdoms for its low prices – or perhaps the clergy regularly denounce this town’s Winter Revel as debauchery.   Or maybe…
Memorable Features – 5-6

Roll Feature
Some spurs to thought
5-6 1 Standard of Hospitality The people of this settlement are remarkable for their attitude toward newcomers.  Roll 1d6.  On a 1-3, they’re unusually welcoming and hospitable.  Why?  Perhaps they’re a gregarious and sociable people who enjoy the company of strangers, or maybe they feel isolated and are therefore eager for news of the outside world.  Perhaps they’re an honor-bound people who pride themselves on their tradition of guest-friendship; or perhaps they rely on passing travelers to make a living, and therefore welcome those who might spend a silver or two.  Meanwhile, on a 4-6, they’re unusually unwelcoming and inhospitable.  Why?  Maybe they’re a clannish and parochial bunch, suspicious of outsiders; or maybe their culture is one in which strangers have to prove themselves worthy of notice before being paid much attention at all.  Perhaps recent raids on outlying farms have made them wary – or maybe something valuable in their community attracts cheats and swindlers, and so they’ve learned to be on their guard.  Maybe they’re snobs who consider themselves more urbane and cosmopolitan than other people – or they think that every worthwhile thing that happens in their city anyway, so outsiders who know nothing about it can safely be ignored.  Maybe they pride themselves most of all on old-fashioned local virtues, which outsiders – bless their benighted souls! – know nothing about.  Or maybe…
5-6 2 Strange Magic There is something odd about the way magic work, or is practiced, in this settlement.  Perhaps the local mana is warped or twisted, or magic simply doesn’t work here, or the veil between the living and the dead is thin here, allowing spirits to be summoned more easily to the waking world.  Maybe the wizards of this city are all required to wear a special turban to show their allegiance to one lord or other, or the local people suspect all single women above the age of ten of being witches, or everyone who goes to sleep in the town is at risk of having disturbing and prophetic dreams.  Or perhaps…
5-6 3 Striking Natural Feature The settlement is built in, on or around a very impressive natural feature of some kind – perhaps a steep cliff, deep crevasse, rock formation, cataract, holy tree, cavern system, waterfall, lava flow, oasis, or sacred spring.  The people of the town may love and revere this feature of the landscape – or fear and revile it – or perhaps just accept it as a fact of life.
5-6 4 Peculiar Custom The settlement is notable for its peculiar local practices or customs.  Perhaps it has strange local taboos; odd cultural practices relating to births, weddings, or funerals; laws which are oddly restrictive (or permissive) about something specific; odd greetings or handshakes; special dietary requirements; strange habits of dress; unusual ways of treating animals; local spiritual or religious traditions.  Perhaps all the young women of this village sow neckerchiefs and give them to the man they intend to marry, or herdsmen whose sheep wander are regularly punished with a dunking in the stream.
5-6 5 Unusual Streetplan The settlement is laid out in some very striking fashion, which makes getting around interesting.  Perhaps the streets are laid out in a radial pattern to preserve the sight-lines from the palace, or the most important streets all flow along curves parallel to the river, or the whole district is a maze of tiny, twisting alleys and lanes.  Or perhaps it’s less a matter of streetplan and more a matter of streetscape: maybe the busy areas of town have raised walkways to keep the rich above the masses, or the city is built around a series of canals, or the steepness of the terrain means that the streets run in switchbacks up the hillsides, or…
5-6 6 Valuable Goods The settlement is known for as the source of a particularly valuable object, good, or commodity.  Perhaps this village brews a particularly famous local ale, or sheepskins from this area can be used to make the smoothest vellum.  Maybe this city makes the finest steel for sword-blades, or its tailors make the most fashionable doublets, or…

Step 3: Determining the Layout of the Settlement

towns-winterhaven-3In this system, every settlement is made up of seven hexes arranged in a certain shape.  The actual size of the area represented by each hex will depend on the size of the settlement.  Thus, if you’re creating a small village, then each hex might represent just a building or two, whereas if you’re creating a city, each hex might represent a whole neighborhood, district, or arrondissement.

Town - verbobonc_city_fixed.gifTo determine the layout of the settlement, roll 1d, 1d and refer to the appropriate chart on these pages.

Once you have your town plan, feel free to reorient it as you see fit (for example, if you need to make the coastline or river on the city layout line up with the coastline or river on your existing map).

If your settlement doesn’t fit perfectly into one of these categories then just choose whichever chart you like, and then make adjustments as necessary.  For instance, if your settlement is on the coast and has a river, roll on the “Town Plans with Coastlines” chart, and then draw in the river wherever you think it fits.

Basic Town Plans

Roll 1d, 1d.  (Need a die roller?)  Feel free to reorient the town plan if desired.

town-plans-basic

Town Plans with Coastlines

Roll 1d, 1d.  (Need a die roller?)  Feel free to reorient the town plan if desired.

Town Plans - Coastlines.jpg

Town Plans with Rivers

Roll 1d, 1d.  (Need a die roller?)  Feel free to reorient the town plan if desired.town-plans-riversTown Plans with Confluences

Roll 1d, 1d.  (Need a die roller?)  Feel free to reorient the town plan if desired.Town Plans - Rivers - Confluences.jpg

Step 4: Creating Districts

Each of the seven hexes in your town plan is going to be its own “District”.

To determine what kind of District occupies each hex, roll 1d, 1d and refer to the District Types table below.

towns-homesteadImportant note:  Be aware that this “District” terminology can be a bit misleading, because the real-world size of your “Districts” will vary greatly depending on the scale of the settlement you’re describing.  If you’re creating a large town or city, then each “District” on the town plan really does represent a “District” in the usual sense of the word – it’s an entire neighborhood, canton, or borough.  But if you’re creating a tiny hamlet or small village, then each so-called “District” might in fact be just a building or two.

Once you’ve created all but two of the settlement’s Districts, stop!  Before creating the last two districts, check to see whether or not your settlement has all the required Districts (listed below). If not, declare that the final hexes are of the required types, instead of rolling.

Required Districts

Each settlement must contain at least one governing District (either “Ruling,” “Religious,” “Law and Order,” or “Military”).

Each settlement must also contain at least one District appropriate to its Theme:

Settlement Theme  Required District
Beautiful Green
Cultured Culture
Dangerous Hazardous
Haunted Graveyard or Hazardous
Historical Historic, Academic, or Hazardous
Infernal Hazardous
Magical Academic
Militaristic Military or Law and Order
Oppressed Law and Order
Poor Poor
Religious Religious
Rich Rich, Money or Trade
Safe Green or Public Amenity
Underworld Underworld
District Types Table

Roll 1d, 1d.  (Need a die roller?)  If you come up with an odd or inappropriate District Type, you can always choose simply to declare that District “Poor” instead.

Once you’ve created all but two of the settlement’s Districts, stop and make sure the settlement has all the required district types (listed above).  If not, put them in now.

    District Type Examples (in rough order of scale from Village up to City)
1 1 Academic Scholar’s hovel, schoolhouse, alchemist’s laboratory, library, archives, observatory, university
2-3 Craft Blacksmith, tanner’s row, maker’s street, guild canton, loomworks,
4 Culture Tavern, playhouse, horse track, theater, tournament lists, menagerie, concert hall, arena, circus, colosseum,
5 Foreign An area defined by its cultural, ethnic, political, or linguistic composition –dwarftown, the foreign legation, the goblin ghetto, the Halfling hillside.  Language skills, Cultural Familiarities, Savoir Faire etc are appropriate.
6 Graveyard Graveyard, cemetery, crypt, mausoleum, necropolis
2 1 Green Common, green, herbalist, fishery, garden, lumberyard, granary, farm, parkland,
2 Hazardous Old well, abandoned mine, crumbling ruins of the old town, sinkhole, blood forest, scree slope, buried canton, magma pit
3 Historic Old inn, “old town,” founder’s house, ancient city, ruins district
4 Law and Order Guardhouse, watchtower, gallows, gaol, prison, courthouse
5 Military Barracks, parade grounds, archery range, tower, armory, keep, castle, citadel
6 Money Pawnbroker, moneylender, jeweler, bank, gemcutter, mint
3 1 Plaza Well, fountain, stele, statue, piazza, plinth, monument, town square, park, plaza, grand arcade
2-4 Poor Shack, orphanage, slums, workhouse, shanty town
5 Portage Jetty, roadhouse, mooring, stables, shipwright, lighthouse, caravanserai, lumberyard, docks, tradehouse, port, harbor,
6 Public Amenity Well, common, leech, orphanage, public baths, surgeon, hospice,
4 1 Religious Sacred font, shrine, temple, monastery, church, abbey, cathedral, ecclesiastical courts
2 Rich Gentleman’s house, manor, finishing school, mansion, manor district,
3 Ruling Town hall, lord’s manor, palace
4-5 Trade Stall, trader’s row, market, auction house, fish market, guild-house, merchant’s guild, grand bazaar,
6 Underworld Back alley, mugger’s row, “the warren,” gang turf, smuggler’s den, thieves district. Streetwise rolls definitely required!
5 1-2 Governing Choose the most appropriate, from among “Ruling,” “Religious,” “Law and Order,” or “Military.”  If you don’t want any of those, this District is “Poor.”
5 3-6 Thematic A district that matches the settlement theme.  See the “Required Districts” table.  If you’ve already got a District of that type (or types), then either place another, or declare this District “Poor”
6 Your choice Either choose a district type, or roll again.

A brief word regarding names for city districts:

If you’re creating a large fantasy city, then you may well want to give each neighborhood its own name.  My fantasy location name tables can be helpful here.  But if you’re looking for flavorful words to describe the administrative or geographical subdivisions of a fantasy city, you might consider any of these:

Flavorful Titles for Fantasy City Districts

Roll 1d, 1d, and then choose any name in the indicated row.  (Need a die roller?)  As with all the naming systems on this site, this is just a spur for your inspiration, so feel free to re-roll!

1-3 1 Ambit District Prefecture
2 Arrondissement Division Purlieu
3 Bailey Domain Quarter
4 Bailiwick Empery Riding
5 Beat Enceinte Round
6 Billet Eparchy Salient
4-6 1 Bishopric Hundred Shire
2 Borough Mandate Tract
3 Canton Neighborhood Turf
4 Commune Patrol Walk
5 Circuit Parish Wapentake
6 Diocese Precinct Ward

Step 5: Memorable Features for Districts

towns-bridgeofstonebowsNow return to the Memorable Features table (Step 2, above) and create a memorable feature for each district.

Then just name the settlement (maybe using the fantasy naming tables here) and you’re done!