World Building Basics: Getting Started with Towns

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Revision, Mar 19, 2013.

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  1. World Building Basics

    Starting to Build: Towns

    As I’ve mentioned before, there are two methods for world building: Top down or bottom up. However, if you are building a world with sentient life, you are likely to have to build at least one “town”. Towns might be small villages, huge cities, asteroid starbases, or enormous city ships. In these ways, each town will be a unique entity. Despite this, most towns will share several characteristics.

    -They are a population center, whether small or large

    -Trade, craft, or both are in evidence. (Sometimes this may take the form of art or science, as well)

    -Pathways converge at a town. Even hidden towns usually have two paths that meet there.

    -Towns are built near resources. Most commonly, this means a waterway, but it could also mean something valuable.

    -There is a city center, be it a temple or a town hall.

    -There is usually a person or group in charge of the town laws and politics

    -There will be vermin. Population centers draw opportunistic scavengers.

    -There will be a generally accepted system of ethics/morals prevalent through the majority of the population

    -There will be a garbage pit, waste disposal system, or other way of getting rid of refuse.

    -Towns smell different than their surroundings. This is due to population density, crafts, and lack of farm animals.

    -Towns are generally built to coincide with naturally flat or gentle land. While this land isn’t always flat when taken on its own, it is when compared to the surrounding land. (This leads to many towns being built on floodplains.) When a town is in space, such as in an asteroid, the ones chosen are generally big enough to contain flat interior constructs. The one exception is for vertical cities, and even these are generally built on even layers of cliff or trees.

    Almost every town will be governed by these characteristics. Those that do not are intentionally deviating in most cases in an attempt to be bizarre or alien. This is fine to do, but one must keep in mind that the more alien a world, the less able to connect with it human readers/players will be.

    Now that we’ve looked at these characteristics, we can keep them in mind as we begin to build a town. How you go about building your town will depend on if you are building out or building in on your world or if you are combining the techniques. If you are building top down, much of your world should already be constructed and you will likely already know the races and culture of the region you are working in. However, if you are working bottom up, this town may be the first thing you are working on. In that case, you may have to take time to create the culture, politics, and inhabitants as well as the town structure.

    Assuming you already have at least some idea of the populace, their habits, culture, diet, and politics, you can move on to the actual town building. If, however, you don’t know these things, you should take some time to figure them out before reading on in this workshop.

    For your town, you will need to determine the following:

    -What is the major resource? Resources can also mean talent, so keep that in mind.

    -What is the water (or water equivalent) source and is it native or must it be imported?

    -What is the political structure?

    -What is the currency (if there is one)?

    -What does the architecture look like?

    -Is the town relatively homogenized or is it divided into sections based on culture or economics?

    -How old is the town?

    -Was there any civilization here before this town?

    -Where is the city center?

    -What sort of crime is common?

    -What are the major pests?

    -What is the most common form of entertainment?

    -What sort of food is eaten?

    -Is there any sort of religion? If so, what kind?

    Let’s not even kid ourselves. These questions are highly important and you will need to answer them eventually. But most people who throw together a quick town generally know very little about it at first, and one of the few facts is generally “where is the bar”. This is because meeting in a bar has become a very prevalent trope in fantasy and science fiction and is a very easy way to start a story. Putting characters in a social setting forces them to socialize-- theoretically. Putting them in a setting with relaxed morals allows all types to mingle, job opportunities to come up, and a potential for violence, all things that move a story along.

    If you do not wish to utilize a “meet in a bar” scenario, any place that is public, populated, and a bit morally relaxed will work. This might be a university, a cafeteria, a shooting range, or even a temple depending on the deity being worshiped. No matter what you choose to do for a meeting place, you should spend a good deal of time making it feel real. People are used to bars and thus they need less description, but any of the other settings may need more to make them feel real. So take time making your point of first meeting.

    You will also want to take time designing the city center and the jail. Chances are, characters will wind up in one or both of these places eventually, so dedicate at least a few minutes to fleshing out each. Other places to focus on are wells in towns that rely on well water, libraries in scholarly and literate towns, temples in religious settings, and the border of town.

    The town border is going to separate the township itself from the rest of the land that belongs with it. Sometimes this will merely be denoted by mile markers and a “Welcome to:” sign, but in more adventurous settings, it often takes a more interesting form. You may have walls, defenses, guards, checkpoints, and gates. These will be more impressive the more defensive and militant (or, alternately, anarchic) your town is. Take that into account when making your border. Also remember that some towns have geographic borders and thus have very little need to do more than install defenses and guards.

    Once you have answered all the questions about your town, added in any useful data and built a few important and back up NPCs, make sure you write it all down. IF, for some reason, you are making a town on the fly, take notes. You never know when your party will decide to return, even if it is for no better reason than “they have good candy there”.

    There is much more to creating a town, but this basic workshop should get you started. A few final pointers and you will be ready to go!

    -Don’t forget to name your town. Towns may be named after a geographic feature, a local hero, or a profession.

    -Remember your sanitation workers.

    -Towns should have variety unless the lack thereof is an important plot point. If your town seems to want to resemble an archetype more than a blend of peoples and points of view, try to utilize that for a story.

    Remember, making towns is important for almost any world. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and a few simple things are the same no matter the town. Each town is different, and they may be simple or highly complex, but they are all a combination of people, history, geography and architecture.
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