For the next two weeks I’m going to be talking about world building in D&D, specifically, building a town/city/village. I’m going to be using cities as an example for this post as there’s typically a lot more to be done in cities as opposed to towns or villages.
This post is going to be centered around some good brainstorming questions in order for us to start thinking about what we want our city to become. Next week I’ll take some ideas and show you how I build the city and use it in the campaign.
Where is the city?
This question is probably the easiest to answer. However, asking yourself where your it is located will make the rest of the questions easier to answer. The location of the city can establish the culture of the city, the people who live there, and even what the city is known for (example: a port city on the ocean).
The biome the city is located in will also help set the scene for your players. A chilly, starving city on a mountain top will have a very different atmosphere than one located on a tropical island in paradise.
What’s your city’s significance in the world?
I like to begin by trying to pinpoint what the place does. What does the world think of when it thinks of the city? For instance, my city Ylisse (Fire Emblem reference) is the home to the king and the majority of the military might of the continent.
In all honesty, it’s more about the flavor of the city more than anything else. You could have a huge port city with rare artifacts coming in from around the globe. There could be a Dwarven city in the middle of a mountain that specializes in making the best weapons and armor in the history of the world.
The point is, make a theme and make it consistent throughout the city. Having a city that has literally everything available in D&D does not enhance the lore or the roleplaying as much, it makes the city feel like a center of convenience than this bustling place chalk full of culture.
How large is the city?
This is a relevant question for any sort of city, town, or village, but cities in general can span from being a few square miles to being these enormous places housing millions of people. Unfortunately, size does matter in this context and there are pros and cons for different sized cities.
In general, if you are going with a very large city, you will not have a ton of fine details. However, you can emphasize certain portions of the city to the party, or tailor certain areas to their interests. With a well-made large city, you can keep your party entertained for quite a few sessions so if you are not looking to have a huge map or too many large cities, having one mega city might be a good idea.
Smaller cities tend to flourish by being more detailed. They’re great for short stays or a place of importance for a major quest for the party. For the most part, I use smaller cities to advance the story or build the world a bit more for the party. It’s a good way to introduce different cultures or show off some rare equipment.
What’s there to do for adventurers?
I’d say that in order for your well-planned city to not go to a complete waste, there has to be plenty to do in order to entice the party to stick around and explore. However, if you just have a basic layout of the city and do not plan it out well, make sure that there are some jobs to do around the city, or some way to segue the party to the next zone.
Anyways, cities are huge hubs that can give adventurers an excuse to shop for any equipment that they think they may need on their adventures. Granted super magical items may be hard to find in a city, but that does depend on what the DM decides. Shopping sprees are always awesome, and with a great variety of equipment to peruse the party will probably spend too much time there!
Maybe a rumor about the city is what brought the party there in the first place. Sometimes the party is only there to complete their mission and then they’re off. This isn’t a bad thing so long as this is your intention.
No matter what you decide to put in your city, make sure that it has some significance to the campaign and the story you are trying to convey. This is both so that it does not become wasted space in your map and wasted effort on your part.
The best way to build an important city for your D&D campaign is to begin brainstorming. Don’t just begin throwing buildings on paper and hope it goes well, think about it for a bit. The questions I used in this post obviously are not the only questions you should ask yourself.
I’m going to ask myself these questions as I jot down my ideas for Ylisse and then show you all how to actually implement this into a campaign next week!