The key to creating fully viable worlds that come alive for players is of course your NPC’s and the worlds that they live in. Having odd towns there for the PC’s to buy stuff is important, however you have to consider why the town is there, which the answer is of course money!
There are several differences between city-life, town-life, and country life. For the sake of easiness, and I do love it when things are easy! We’ll define villages as small communities that contain 100 people, towns contain medium communities of 500 folks, cities as 1,000 people minimum, and Capitals with populations of 10,000+.
Everybody has to live some place, and work is always a necessity, especially in country life which is not very forgiving to the unemployed. We are going to assume that our world is past the time of warlords, as I find that most DM’s and Players prefer worlds with free trade, and few internal wars. For the sake of avoiding arguments, we will be using a kingdom as our basis of logic, the King lives in the capital city and appoints lords and dukes to control land, our workers will be freemen who pay taxes.
Farmsteads surround all forms of cities, but none so widely as villages which cater to these people. Villages buy and ship raw materials, typically this raw material is in the form of grains, but there is usually several other raw materials that the village specializes in depending on the land itself. If the soil is rich, crops will be it’s main source of income, or lumber, fruits, vegetables. As a rule, they can only produce large amounts of a single product and 1 or 2 other products, but no more then three else they would grow to be a town. Our sample village will be producing cotton. Almost everybody in town will be employed by a plantation, plantations will probably be run by one or two rich families who have purchased the title of Barron from the King, it is there responsibility to protect the town, which they usually delegate by hiring a constable, who has the power to enforce laws, and can summon up a militia in times of need. This won’t be a powerful militia, we are talking about a handful of 1st level fighters, and the constable will probably only be 2nd level himself. This should be enough to stop most threats, or at least make the small populous feel safer.
There will only be one store in a village, and the prices will be expensive because all things need to be shipped in, nor will they carry anything of much value to anybody except for the workers of the plantations. As a rule add at least 20% bonus to the prices listed in the Players Handbook. Tailors are rare in villages, most of the time the store will only sell cloth and the country folk make their own clothes.
There will also be a blacksmith, he won’t be skilled enough to create weapons, his primary responsibility will be sharpening and maintaining tools, and manufacturing small items like nails, he will probably also order tools from outside the community that wouldn’t be sold in the general store. At most he can fashion horse shoes, if he was a skilled blacksmith he wouldn’t be living in a village were there is very little money to be made. It will be the blacksmith who also sells tack and harness, however very rarely will there be anything useful to Player Characters, again his customers are poor farmers.
A carpenter will also be present, to fix and maintain buildings. A community pub will act as a meeting house, typically this pub will only sell spirits of no variety. A small parish church will also be in the village, as will a bin which is owned by the rich and maintained by meticulous men. Typically villagers will also plant a personal garden and sell the food that they won’t use for extra money, this will be bought by the bin man depending on demand, and shipped out.
If not all land is suitable for growing cotton, then it may be used as pasture for goats and cows which serve two purposes, milk and maybe for meat, however the milk and meat will be staying in the village, excess being sold to the general store.
The villagers themselves will be very poor but self reliant, in most cases they will trade with barter instead of with money. They will have no free time for any pleasure except for enjoying a pint at the pub. They will however be very noble folks, notice that there is no inn, nobody stays here overnight except for guests of the rich families who own the plantations. Visitors will be warmly welcomed in by the country folk in exchange for work, or if they have become famous for their heroics they will be welcomed in for entertainment purposes where they have to answer questions and tell stories about their exploits. Any country folk would be honored to have a true hero staying under their roofs, and will brag about it for the rest of their days. Even if they are not famous, usually the country is not a safe place to be at night, and these cultish people couldn’t live with themselves if they allowed something evil to happen when they had a chance to help them. A guest will be given a place to sleep for one night, and dinner before going to bed. If they got the room from barter of work, they’ll also get breakfast. None of these meals will be large, as the biggest meal of the day is typically eaten midday.
There are lots of little villages around, most only appear on few maps owned by traders who have a route there. These little villages have lots of color, they don’t get many breaks. Marriages and deaths are big deals, everybody knows everybody so the village is essentially shut down, in the case of a funeral, everyone takes a break and attends. Depending on the village product, there may be a harvest festival, but there will always be a summer faire that will carry on for at least a week. Music usually plays a big part in country life, as does a sport, usually wrestling or boxing as this requires no money for materials, though for the old, board games are a favorite pastime.
Village diets are mostly vegetables and poultry, rarely will they have money to feed and care for cattle fit for butchering, but there is enough demand to have a traveling butcher who shows up and slaughters the odd cow or lamb and cut it up; cows do require a coop as that much meat would go to waste so it is shared among many different families dividing all cuts as fairly as possible.
Towns are much larger then villages, these are usually over-seen by a lord whose responsible for protecting the citizens with a more powerful militia, typically with ranks filled up with 1st and 2nd level fighters and over seen by a warrior of 3rd or 4th level. While villages only have one or two key products, towns have many, however these will all be raw materials. Money is more plentiful too, as the land around the town is of much better quality. While villages are run by the wealthy, towns are maintained by royalty, except in the case of mines. Mining towns are the exception to the rule, these are hastily built towns that center around mining typically from very rich deposits of precious substances that are very limited, these towns only last as long as the mine continues to be profitable. These can be owned by a coop of diggers who sale their findings to one man, or can be owned by on man who hire the diggers and grant them more money for results. In almost all cases, the real money to be made in a mining town is not from working the mine, but in selling merchandise to the miners. Mining towns are run like villages, but they are larger unless the ore being mined is something stable, like copper, steel, or coal for example.
Town products will be the same as in villages, but slightly cheaper, about 5% to 15% higher prices then listed in the PHB depending on how far the goods need to be shipped from the city. The quality of the merchandise, and the variety of goods that would serve adventurers is much better here.
A tailor will be available here, though cloth will also be available for thrifty citizens who prefer to sew their own clothing.
Also in this town are capable armorers, however armor is not mass produced, it must be constructed one piece at a time as described in the PHB. There will also be weapon makers here that can construct simple blades of the most popular verity, as well as a boyer/fletcher who can make very decent bows and arrows depending upon the wood that he has access to, as a general rule, if the wood has to be shipped in, then there is no boyer.
You’ll also need to place important buildings to turn the raw materials into something that can be used by manufacturers, as well as storing the goods and raw materials. For example most towns produce grains such as wheat, wheat would require the town to build a mill that turns it into flour. This would also make a town bakery profitable, which would buy a small percentage and the rest would be shipped to cities and villages, cities bringing in the most profit and getting the finer flour.
The most important thing to remember when placing a town is water. Shipping by wagon is expensive and dangerous, a waterway is much faster and economical, and if river pirates become a serious problem then they can be dealt with easier then highwaymen. Towns depend on rivers and coastlines to ship their goods and bring goods from the city, this also allows very experienced carpenters who can make small boats, barges, and perhaps furniture to earn enough money to operate. Towns also have the ability to produce things that are necessary to everyone, such as coffee, tobacco, and a wide verity of meat, these of course need special factories as coffee and tobacco need to be baked, and a stockyard to turn cattle into food.
Towns can support a small thieves guild, but it’s too small to allow a fence to move merchandise as freely as they can in larger cities. Wizards may live here, but usually only one who takes on an apprentice here and there and will also allow fellow wizards access to their library for a cost. Spell components will, of course, have to be brought in from the city though some rare components may only be found in villages and towns, these will be much cheaper when grown locally.
The church will be much stronger in towns as well, they will offer a priest of some level who can produce holy water and some wards as well as curing and healing for a donation to the church. The church will be better funded in towns, and reap the rewards of this.
Inns are also present, ranging from excellent to very poor. Typically excellent inns are booked by rich merchants and royalty, on the other end of the scale you have Common rooms which are simply one room where renters rent a pallet and get breakfast in the morning (and possibly a bad case of food poisoning).
City life is what most folks expect, it’s pretty well documented, all prices should be as listed in the PHB unless some calamity is taking place in the town that would drive prices higher, cities need raw materials supplied by rural districts to produce the finished goods that towns and villages don’t have the means to make. Cloth, rope, fine beers and wines, as well as artistic objects. If these raw materials can’t make it into the city, then the production on finished goods will be stopped.
The City will be run by a Duke, it will have a cathedral with high level clerics, as well as a real army to protect its citizens. A word about crime, law enforcement will be in place here, crime is normally quarantined to a curtain district and is controlled, and is, in fact, desired. Young men who deliver raw products to the city normally only go to the city once a year, and they want to have fun. Fun defined as drinking, gambling, and other things that aren’t fit to mention on a family friendly blog. This area of town will typically be right by the docks.
The docks will also have an enormous shipyard which constructs all manner of ships, from small river boats to giant seaworthy crafts; as trade is usually extended to outside of the kingdom as well. Local specialties such as horses will be loaded and return with a product that can’t be created in the kingdom itself because the land or weather, stuff like Sugar, Coffee, and fruits that only grow in specific climates. The key to merchants is to buy low (preferably where the product is manufactured) and sell high.
All of your tradesmen will form guilds to protect the industry and control prices. Probably the richest guilds will be your most simple ones, such as barrel makers, this is a highly skilled job and everything is shipped in barrels. It is these guys who actually make shipping possible, and it is up to them as to how much product can be shipped by the amount of barrels that they produce. The guild master will decide how many barrels that each tradesman will be responsible to make, and the size of his area of cliental. This way he can either over produce making barrels cheap, or under produce to drive the price higher. Of course he is also dependent on woodsmen who supply the lumber, and the iron workers who supply the metal needed to manufacture the rings. Now you don’t think that this couple possibly be something that would interest PCs, however whenever guilds are involved disputes have to be solved quickly else the city can be shut down. If a lumber supplier refuses to supply the coopers with the materials that they need then tempers could flare and the lord needs to intervene before a guild war or a strike breaks out.
Capital Cities are old cities, run by the king. The society should reflect how the king operates, but typically, they are also over-crowded. There is lots of money to be made, but the possibility of absolute ruin is much higher in capital cities as the most powerful and influential members of society will live here.
Prices here should be low (-10% to -20% below prices listed in PHB) however property will only be available to Upper and Middle Class, there will be a huge portion of the city that is low class, but this isn’t talked about and primarily avoided as a subject of discussion. Prices in this part of town will be the same listed, but very few merchants venture in, thus the quality of the merchandise and the quantity is poor.
The poor are led to this city because of hopes and dreams of riches to be found here, normal cities are the same, but nowhere do you have the ability for true greatness as in the capital. The best warriors are brought here and judged, the Capital will pay for their travel too the city garrison, however most of the candidates are refused and stranded there without a second thought to them, they won’t pay for travel back to their homes, and most of these would be soldiers haven’t the money to leave on their own. Wizards also fall for this trap, they spend all of their cash in hopes of finding a powerful wizard to apprentice under, however all of the wizards have more apprentice candidates that they know what to do with. Thieves guilds are no better, they will probability have to many members already and send potential thieves on deadly and dangerous missions that they can’t possibly survive, or complete without being arrested.
Capital cities are both lavish and extremely cruel, even under a good king.
The Capital city should had been constructed in a militarily strategic place. Hints of its medieval history will be present, and primarily land-based, the fortress itself built onto high ground with a clear view for many miles as this reduces (if not eliminates) an armies chances of sneaking up on it undetected.
Trade here is normally done by caravan, and rue the poor soul who dares interrupt a royal trade route, the soldiers here are elite and itching to prove their loyalty and ability to their superiors! Some stuff will possibly be brought into the city in secret, normally there is secret passages that were constructed into capitals that in the past, were used as an escape route for royalty, a secret cave leading from the sea or ocean would be perfect! Typically, things that were originally used in earlier times as either defensive or offensive, are now convenient for the trade industry.
Trade makes the world go around, don’t forget this! It will effect your players, as some of the events that we write into our dungeons, will also effect this industry and a domino effect could take place. If a city is being heckled by goblins, making it impossible to get materials in or out, then it won’t just be this city that is effected, it will be the entire surrounding area’s for miles.
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