Roleplaying 106 – Brick by Brick

Last time in this series of articles, I explained my process for brush-stroke world building. This time around, I’m going to go into more detail when it comes to making cities and urban centres to populate your world. As ever, the content here is intended to be taken as guidelines or suggestions rather than hard and fast rules about how you should do things.

This article is intended for use with games that don’t take place in the “real” world, but it can be used to influence the creation of micro-societies such as Freeholds in Changeling: The Lost.

I’ll start with cities and then shrink in scope to towns, villages and hamlets. You should already have decided upon a distinct flavour for your world if you followed my suggestions in the previous article. You should let that flavour direct your choices from this point on.

I think it’s fair to say that most adventuring parties spend a lot of time in cities, certainly as they grow in power and influence they will spend more and more time in them. As such, building a city you are satisfied with should translate into the game as building a living, engaging setting for your players.

The first things I usually decide upon are the system of government and population make-up.

If you’ve decided upon a social intrigue campaign, the government might lend itself better to a collection of scheming nobles in a royal court as opposed to a benevolent mayor, whereas a more dungeon delving style campaign might have one ruler who is being manipulated by an evil vizier.

If you don’t know what direction to take with the system of government, feel free to take ideas from elsewhere. I freely admit that I use ideas from novels, comics and video games. If you like it, and it suits your plan, there’s no real reason you can’t adapt it for your game.

Want a ruling council? Roll a die and have that many members. Want just one person? Are they a figurehead, or do they truly have all the power? Does the government really want to help the populace? Or couldn’t they care less?

Whatever you decide upon, try and work out answers to these questions:

  • Will your players interact meaningfully with the governing body?
  • If so, how do they feel about adventurers?
  • How fair is the governing body?
  • Does the populace approve of the government?
  • Is there any civil unrest?
  • How will your players feel about this government?

An important thing to consider about the fairness of the governing body and public approval, is how the governing body treats members of other races.

Before you decide that, it’s worth working out what races make up the population, and the percentage of the population that each race makes up. With that established, you can work out how the government behaves.

Not only should you think about how the government treats members of other races, but you should also consider how the races themselves interact with each other.

With that established you can then think about the physical geography of the city. If the races intermingle freely, then perhaps there are large open areas full of people where you can buy anything and meet anyone. If not, perhaps there are still large open areas but they all have a different cultural feel, and are unwelcoming to members of any other race.

A city with a stark poverty barrier might have a clear line between the rich and the poor, with crime rampant in the lower city and a heavy police presence in the upper city. A government with a hard-line judicial stance might flood the streets of the city with police or soldiers.

A city, unless it is brand new, should reflect the people and ideas that inhabit it.

It might also be worth thinking about inter-city relations after you’ve built two or more cities.

For towns, villages and hamlets, the process is largely the same but with one major addition. Before doing anything, you should consider what the major threats to that particular place are. What you decide should influence your decisions regarding the governing body and its behaviour.

A village under regular attack, for instance, would probably have an ex-soldier in a position of authority and have a martial way of life. Somewhere at frequent risk of drought, on the other hand, might have a group of farmers who determine the direction of the town’s resources, digging irrigation ditches and building silos.

At the end of the day, if you think that your city, town, etc. would make a convincing setting in a television show, book or game, odds are your players will enjoy it as well. By necessity, I can’t provide an exhaustive list of how to build cities and whatnot, but I hope this has at least been useful and given you some ideas.

As ever, feel free to comment or send me an e-mail with any questions.


– Bubbles/Ryan


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