How To Build A Fantasy City In 47 Seconds
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0852
Need a city fast for your campaign? Follow these 6 steps to build a fantasy town or metropolis in under a minute.
Drawing or consulting a map is my First Move. [Kill GM Procrastination With Your First Move]
So we’ll begin this recipe with a quick fantasy city map generator. Let’s dive in!
Step 1. Generate Map
Go to the Watabou fantasy city map generator and make a map.
Step 2. Choose Government
This city-building recipe is primarily bottom-up. But I still like to have a few top-down details in place just to give me some guidance.
For example, map, city name, districts.
Another detail I like to know in adventures is who or what leads the city. Does it have a king, mayor, council, whacked necromancer?
As an Agile GM, you can use this small detail of leadership for all kinds of theming inspiration as you game the city out.
For example, a city-king might indicate an independent and free city. A necromancer might rule with fear, slavery, and oppression. A council of guilds might give you ideas for intrigue and more of a blue collar feel.
Government then feeds you details like city alignment, laws, power bases, and relationships.
A quick leadership decision gives you a single detail that’ll colour your map in more ways than one.
Step 3. Create Districts
Next, divide your city into sections.
Districts, wards, sectors, gates. Whatever you want to name them.
The tool I linked to does this for you. Just hover over the areas to see the main district theme.
However, I don’t see residences listed. And you might want more granular districts or have different use/theme needs.
So choose the Export feature and open the file in your favourite paint app. Colour districts or label as desired.
Use this district name generator if stuck for names. [Fantasy Name Generators or Codex Nomina]
You want to carve your city up for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s easier communication. When the party wants to go places, when roleplaying with NPCs, and when planning sessions, you can reference specific spots in the city. “Yeah, I know that guy. He’s shacked up in Lower Little Glek. Watch yer backs there.”
Second, it’s easier to key locations. Need to find the Silver Chalice Inn? Make a note it’s in the Watertown District.
Third is faction play. Split people up you instantly get politics.
Step 4. Place Buildings
I would do most location placement during session run-time. When players ask where the nearest inn or market or sage is, pick a spot and log it in your session notes.
However, for planned encounters and whatnot you might want to pin a few important locales.
In either case, use this list of locations for ideas on what types of buildings, establishments, and cities you might find in your fantasy city. [Buildings, Establishments & Places You Can Find In Villages, Towns & Cities]
Key your map so you don’t forget where things are.
Just create a Log Entry in Campaign Logger (or app of preference) called #City.Locations.
Each time you add a place, put a number on the map and add a tagged item in your Log Entry. For example:
Campaign Logger automatically creates a linked “space” for each location I’ve named. All references in the future to that location in session logs or during prep will automagically get connected for easy search or review with just a single click.
Note I’ve created two entries for each location. One is a number (#Bleak Harbour.01) and the other is a name (#Silver Chalice Inn) for snappy cross-referencing and map referencing. You organize your stuff how you like — this is just my approach!
Step 5. Add Encounters
Again this is something I’d do ad hoc in run-time for most situations. Let the players choose their own streets.
However, if stuck for an encounter idea, here’s 650 fantasy city encounter hooks for you.
Campaign Logger members: here are those 650 encounters in a random generator file you can immediately add to your account for free.
Step 6. Add Flavour
If you have more than 60 seconds to spare, start fleshing your city out.
Try the Bright Lights, Big City article by Jeff Ibach. [Bright Lights, Big City]
And City Features And Flavors by Dariel Quiogue. [City Features And Flavors]
And 4 City Building Tips by yours truly. [Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #418 – 4 City Building Tips: Give cities flavour with districts]
Welcome to Bleak Harbour A cold northern whaling port city. Last stop before you hit the lands of the White Dragon Kings. Population: 14,000. Leadership: King Peren, a nasty politician who puts more chum in the habour than the fishermen do.
Who wants to visit?