City Building For Your Game (Part 2)

Last time, I talked about how I go about planning a city. TL;DR: building any sort of city/humanoid habitat is about 3/4ths ideas about the buildings, people, and society and 1/4th drawing up the city and determining items that are sold/quests to be accepted.

This post covers the writing and drawing portion of city building. This part won’t take much of your time to write up so long as you planned it out beforehand. The majority of your time will most likely go towards drawing out the map.

Drawing the Map

Unfortunately, I’m not an artist. Sketching schematics is about the height of my artistic ability. Most of the time I would jot down basic shapes and color it in a bit on paper and call that a map. Then I realized I could actually use technology and my maps look CONSIDERABLY better.

I wrote a post about Inkarnate recently, and that’s probably what I’ll end up sticking with for overworld maps like cities from now on. Seriously, it makes you look like you have some artistic talent with very little effort.

There are plenty of software options for free or purchasable for map making. Hell, even traditional image editors like Photoshop, GIMP, or any other editor, but I don’t really have the talent for that.

Depending on the size of your city, you may want to split it up into specific chunks based on some different criteria. For example, the Tulip District in Ylisse is home to the majority of the shops and food stands in the city. Some people also reside in the houses surrounding Merchant’s Commons.

The Rose and Lilac districts are home to the vast majority of the citizens of Ylisse. What separates two-quarters of the city is their socioeconomic status. Money is absolutely another criteria that we can use to section off our city. Personally, I like the idea of separating residential parts of the city based on how wealthy the residents are as it opens the game up a bit for different role-playing scenarios.

Another great way to section off a city is basing a chunk of the city around a major monument or building. The Daffodil District is home to Temple Square, which is houses the churches. There are also plenty of houses in this part of the city.

Don’t forget to place major government buildings in your city as well! Deciding what sort of government your city has can have a large effect on the campaign you are running. For instance, a monarch would control the city considerably different compared to an elected mayor.

Things to do in the City

Basically, what does your city have to offer from a role-playing perspective? What can the party do to spend some time in the city that you spent a lot of time working on?


My players LOVE shopping. They love finding obscure items (magical or not) and interacting with the shopkeepers. Honestly, I rather enjoy role-playing as the shopkeepers as it can make great dialogue for the group as a whole and allows people to flesh out their character’s personality.

In 3.5 magical items are practically thrown at the players. 5e is focused around fewer and more powerful magical items. These items have a larger effect on the game and therefore arrive later in the campaign. Plus since I haven’t had a 5e game yet I can’t gauge exactly how to deal with magic shops and the like. Point is, I’m mainly going to go by the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player Handbook when the players are shopping around. I’ll also reserve 90% of the magical items (and pretty much all artifacts) to questing and looting.

Inns and taverns are excellent places as well. Adventurers need a place to stay for a few nights on the road, or just a permanent location in their favorite city. These places are also great for overhearing some gossip and information about what’s going on in the surrounding area. It’s a great place to pick up odd jobs for some coin or gather information for their current mission.

Lastly, you have your general supply shops. These kind of shops are great because you can never have enough random adventuring supplies. Medical supplies, components for spells, food, etc. must be purchased eventually. Pretty much any of the basic supplies in the Players Handbook should be available in some way.


Many jobs can be found around the city. In fact, this is a great scenario to try out urban combat with your party. Cities are great places for hubs for questing as someone always has a job they need to be done. Quests do not always have to be combat related, mind you.

One example is that people in the rich part of Ylisse are disturbed about the horde of rats in the streets. The adventurers are tasked with investigating and ending the infestation. The twist is that the “infestation” of rats is actually just a few rats here and there. The poor part of town, the Rose District, is literally full of rats and those people have yet to complain.

Another quest is that a blacksmith in town needs a shipment of ore from the mainland. He needs the party to accompany a few of his men to the city and protect them from any dangerous highwaymen or monsters on the roads.

Obviously, you don’t need to use these hooks for your campaign, but my point is that you have a plethora of hooks that you can come up with for quests. Cities are really great quest hubs.


Interacting with the people in the city is a given. No matter what your players do, they will have some sort of interaction with people in the city. This will go hand in hand with the previous activities I touched upon in this post.

One suggestion I might have is to decide what races are in your city. Is it a mix of many different races? Is it primarily a single race? This will set the tone of your city. Each race tends to have its own unique personality and your city will reflect that.


Building a solid city that your players will spend a bit of time it takes a lot of work. If utilize online resources or books you can streamline much of the tedious parts of planning a city. Don’t be afraid to change things up or expand upon some of the things you use in your resources either. Regardless, 90% of the time any normal party will probably unknowingly blow past your in-depth plans anyways!

If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!

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