Feb 142019

A settlement without defenses is unlikely to resist capture. Here we look at the types of fortifications a settlement may need.

Cleared Areas

While not an actual fortification, a cleared area devoid of trees often surrounds a settlement to prevent opposing forces from approaching unseen. Decide how far out this region extends from the city or whether it’s been done at all. Trees might have been left there as a trap and the locals know better than to set foot inside.

Archery Towers

Whether towers for archery or another missile defense, lookout towers provide the opportunity to rain missiles down on approaching forces. They could be located all around the settlement, but we should establish what’s going to attack and from which direction. An army can typically approach from only one side; if they can do so from all sides, then this settlement isn’t in a good location for defense. The direction from which the primary threat comes will have more towers, as will major entrances. A city wall might also provide an inner walkway that means archers can be anywhere and move easily; in this scenario, actual towers might be mostly for lookouts.


In fantasy settings, the castle is a major part of many settlements and the center of life. In addition to a strategic position for firing upon attackers and making itself harder to conquer, castles are used to shelter locals in case of emergency or invasion. In a village or small town, the entire population might fit in the castle. They’ll be overflowing the rooms, sleeping in halls, maybe even in the courtyard, but it’s better than being in the path of an opposing army. However, in larger settlements, not everyone’s going to fit. No matter the size of the community so housed, there must be enough food and water to outlast a siege or surrender is inevitable. In cities, the castle’s fortifications will be augmented by the city wall, which can protect a larger population and the city itself.

The Wall

Small settlements sometimes have a wall, which controls entrance and exit in addition to providing protection from attack. Some are only waist high and made of stones, which may seem pointless to us for being so easily climbed over, but limited material might be the reason for this. A settlement near mountains is unlikely to have such small walls of stone. Similarly, a low wall of timber when a forest stands near seems less believable.

We should decide what this wall is designed to keep out. Anything with the ability to control fire will burn down wooden walls, though this is a time-consuming way to remove one, but a wooden wall can still slow an attacking force, especially if it’s comprised of less-intelligent creatures, such as animals or monsters.

Feb 072019

Formality typically rules a large settlement. There are laws, regulations, police, a legal system, mayors, voting (in free societies), zoning, and even procedures like how to evacuate or handle certain emergencies. Everything is taken more seriously due to physical and population size and diversity. Otherwise, the chaos overwhelms, especially in times of conflict. This formality can become a problem, however, when groups are marginalized or taken advantage of, or when laws and regulations are unfairly and inconsistently applied, causing social strife that may boil over into protests, riots, and death. Congestion also makes the spreading of disease an issue. Cities offer the best and arguably worst of everything due to competition and quality.

The population is likely to be diverse even if some wish this were not so. Even hundreds of years after a settlement began, newer species can face racism from factions that want a return to the old ways, when their majority ruled and made no concessions to other species. A stark difference between poor and rich can be common, and stricter separation of crime-ridden slums and clean, wealthy districts is common. Marginalized groups will have less sway in town affairs and may be prevented from holding office.

Cities may have the best fortifications and military to staff them, with entire garrisons of trained warriors, many with elite skills; formal ranks are likely and a subculture for these people will exist, with inns, taverns, and equipment shops catering to them. All of this is more likely with somewhat isolated cities as found hundreds of years ago; such places weren’t yet surrounded by suburbs, and police, not military, enforce daily order and the military is reserved for civil unrest and actual wars or excursions into other territories, for example.

Zoning will prevent industrial, commercial, or residential from mixing but will result in more traffic from commuting, even if that’s mostly pedestrian in fantasy settings. Such a scenario lends itself to pickpockets and people hawking wares to passersby, making for noise. Main thoroughfares are more likely to be paved; otherwise, the mess after a rain storm is considerable. In SF, all roads are probably paved and parking is another concern, though public transportation may have reduced or eliminated this.

Pollution is a major concern and taxes help pay for better infrastructure to minimize the risk of illness spreading. Sanitization is generally better unless the city is run down. Increased anonymity in the largest cities means people only know a small percentage of the population and can fall back on stereotypes and prejudice to judge those nameless masses with whom they share a city.

Rivers and lakes provide the needed water for cities, so we’ll want to place our largest settlements along them, though in SF we can use technology to create drinkable water from sea water, for example, and make better use of irrigation and the divergence of rivers from their natural course. Dams can also create lakes that didn’t exist before. There are also likely man-made reservoirs, particularly if the area lacks water.

In SF, public transportation is common and might include a space port. We should decide where this is located, but the answer is that it’s typically near industrial areas and somewhat out of the way due to pollution, traffic, and noise; think of airports and all they provide in food, other transportation, and nearby lodging.

The largest type of city, sometimes called a metropolis, is so large that it has often absorbed nearby villages and even entire towns. Individual towns may have retained their names and governments, but physically they’ve been absorbed into the metropolis, with no intervening gaps. These formerly independent settlements could have building styles unique to them and seem like neighborhoods of the larger settlement. If they had walls, those might still be there because in an attack, each walled area has its own fortifications.

Feb 042019

Towns are the smallest settlement that we’re likely to create files of information about and draw on maps. They differ from villages not only in size but competition and backup resources; to use the example from the previous section, multiple carpenters or blacksmiths if one dies. Our traveling characters are unlikely to get away with bartering their services for fare and lodging, unless the skill is something rare, like wizardry, healing, or specialized engineering skills. The variety of people and skills tends to raise the quality of everything, including town walls, gates, tools, buildings, food, clothing, and other merchandise.

The amount of crime will depend partly on population size and character, and which species are here. While some diversity of species can exist, one tends to be a majority and others less well represented. Smaller towns mean less anonymity, so if someone steals something and tries to sell it to someone else or wears/uses it, this is more likely to be noticed unless sold to visitors who leave before wearing it. Conversely, a business can cheat people more easily with the lack of oversight, regulation, and laws found in a city. Corrupt officials might also hold considerable power, intimidating residents and visitors alike; the towns in Hollywood westerns come to mind.

A town often has formal guards who report to someone. This is one reason that taxes are almost a certainty, as these professionals need to be paid somehow. We can imagine a skilled swordsman from a village wanting to be paid for his services and moving to a nearby town, maybe even to a city. In addition to guards (who act like police), specialized forces might be here and will depend on terrain; horsemen, knights, and archers are some skilled positions in fantasy, while sharpshooters and pilots are likely in SF, and we can invent others to go with technological weapons or defenses we create. The larger the town, the more likely a wall, and its height, materials, and the prevalence of archer towers, for example, also rises. Some buildings might lie outside the wall due to the town’s continuing expansion after it went up. In a world where flight is common, newer walls might be rare, since they can be flown over.

A town will have considerable farming nearby and needs a larger source of drinking water, so these are often by rivers and lakes. They may employ irrigation. In our modern world, farmers don’t get much respect, which is partly an effect of population size and industry making it easier to take our food for granted. In less civilized worlds, the importance of farmers and effects of floods or drought are harder to overlook. Especially in smaller settlements, any town council will likely focus in part on farming issues, and life will revolve around agricultural events like the planting or harvest. When inventing plants and animals for our setting, as covered in Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1), we may wish to decide if farmers can grow a crop and what the harvest cycle is.

A mayor and formal town council may exist, with individuals appointed by vote, reputation, or prominence, which could be influence, wealth, or land ownership. A family can hold sway over generations, too, for better or worse, and may be the ones whose name graces the town or areas of it. Larger towns are sometimes divided into wards, with each such neighborhood bearing a name and having a representative on a ruling council. Zoning also occurs, but this typically occurs as the settlement grows so that the oldest areas are more likely to be mixed use than later additions.

Jan 212019

While there are smaller permanent settlements, like a hamlet, world builders don’t typically need anything less than a village. There should be a reason the village exists there, such as good farmland or natural resources, or even just being the halfway point between two other locations that can’t be traversed in less than a day, requiring somewhere to stay. If there’s a water source there, what starts as a known resting/camping place can become a village when inhabitants or passers-through begin adding buildings. If this is the case, an inn or two is quite likely and might be the focal point of town. Naturally, such a place is likely welcoming of strangers.

By contrast, a village that a group formed in an out-of-the-way location might be there to retreat from others, especially if the founders share a vision, such as a religious creed. We don’t need to state why our village exists, but a detail like this can make it easier to characterize the place. It also creates reputation, which one of our visiting characters might know. Or they might find out the hard way. Villages tend to have a population with a limited number of religious and political views, which our characters can run afoul of if wearing a talisman of a despised god, for example.

A village is unlikely to have a dedicated, official protector like a sheriff, but the most skilled warrior living there will probably take it upon himself to protect others and resources as needed, with help from the able-bodied. These individuals may not be formally paid, as it’s not a full-time job, but receive perks like a free meal or two for an act of bravery. They could also be trouble instead of a protector, intimidating others.

A village usually lacks a surrounding wall or has a wooden one at best, and less durable materials like wood are likely to be used for buildings. The quality of craftsmanship might be poorer due to fewer trained carpenters or blacksmiths, but if such individuals are present, they may be prominent. If our visiting characters have skills a village needs, they may be able to barter their work for food and lodging. For example, the town’s blacksmith died recently—just don’t make his death yesterday (that’s too convenient). If this was months ago, not only is this more believable, but it means more work is needed as a village falls into disrepair. This sort of thing works with wizards or healers, too, or mechanics and scientists in SF.

For map making, we seldom draw villages unless doing a close-in view of where the story takes place. A continent or regional map would have so many villages as to become unwieldy. This means we can often invent a village on the fly for our needs. We’re less likely to care about its symbol, colors, slogan, or anything else, and can skimp on much of this until needing it. Unless the village is famous for something, we’re unlikely to ever mention its existence unless characters are arriving there or originated from it. Villages seldom have zoning and are more likely to have buildings that are a combination of a store on the ground floor and a home above it. And everyone knows everyone else, for better or worse.

Creating Castles

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Jan 172019

In this section, we’ll look at castles that have no village surrounding them.

Unless abandoned, castles are populated year-round and will be much like a village in which the residents live within the castle walls; there may be buildings scattered outside the walls, such as stabling for animals or guard houses, which are easily replaced if destroyed in a siege. The land around the castle offers farming and hunting opportunities, while the water source is typically protected (such as a well inside the walls). The castle is self-sufficient due to its defensive nature, and in times of peril, food may be stocked for a significant amount of time, but bear in mind that the ability to preserve foods is somewhat lacking in eras during which castles are widely used. Due to their self-sufficiency, castles typically have everyone they need, such as a healer or blacksmith.

Castles can be placed along important trade routes, at the opening to dangerous territory such as a mountain pass, or near valuable resources. They might take advantage of a natural fortification that is easily defended and be a general defensive/offensive location within a sovereign power. They can also protect borders, though these borders can and likely have changed at times, often with the castle being conquered and finding itself part of another kingdom. Decide if each castle is currently in the hands of those who built it (or their descendants). Changing possession can mean that two opposing kingdoms have each occupied it at times, both knowing its secrets; this is seldom discussed or utilized in fictional work, as occupants are typically portrayed as knowing the castle’s secrets while their enemy has no idea.

Creating Outposts

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Jan 072019

The difference between settlement types is largely physical, determined by population size, defenses, and the availability of resources. Magnitude affects everything, including the amount of territory covered to how much of it can be farmed or protected and how often the settlement is visited. Those with a lot of traffic, something to offer residents, or both, are likely expanding. Conversely, those with less to offer may be shrinking. Most of this chapter will apply equally to all settlement types, but here we’ll look at specific considerations.


These are structures or groups of them where the population is too small (or not perpetually present) to qualify as a village. Whether we call them outposts or something else, the smallest permanent dwellings are anything from a single building that might not be perpetually manned, like a tower, up to a larger fort more like a castle. An outpost might only be needed during certain seasons or conditions, getting overgrown during the absence of people, or just minimally staffed. It could be a refueling station or scientific observation post, particularly in SF.

This has practical consequences. Farming is unlikely if no one is there year-round, requiring residents to either bring food with them, hunt for it, or be supplied from elsewhere, which is believable if the outpost is associated with a larger settlement that built or maintains it. We take for granted food and water supply or the presence of doctors/healers, repairmen (such as blacksmiths or mechanics), or police, but many of these may be missing from the outpost’s staff. Decide which absences make sense or propel your story forward; wounded characters with no healers around adds tension, but a missing blacksmith is harder to make interesting or worth commenting on; in SF, those who can repair equipment are seemingly needed more often.

While it’s typically known who built a larger settlement, an outpost might have been long abandoned and possibly used by someone other than its builder. This can offer mystery, such as hidden rooms or ones with disturbing contents and purposes. There’s also the possibility that whoever (or whatever) normally occupies it will return and catch our characters making themselves at home. It’s important to decide who, if anyone, has been using this place lately, its condition, and what we intend to happen to our characters while here. Do they know about this place and think it’s abandoned, or do they know something bad is here but they need it for shelter anyway and come prepared for battle? Unknown outposts that are stumbled upon are the most nerve-racking if something seems “off” about the place, as though danger lurks.

Our less civilized species are likely unable to create buildings. This suggests they’re the ones to take over somewhere abandoned or often unoccupied. They may even do so seasonally so that the regular inhabitants know this and prepare, either by laying traps, making it otherwise less desirable when gone, or coming back heavily armed for the yearly reclaiming of their outpost. The unsavory inhabitants might also leave behind a mess, including carcasses of food, enemies, or both.

Understand City Zoning

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Jan 032019

Young settlements will have no clear zoning, which is a designation of how the land can be used (residential, commercial, industrial, agriculture, mixed). The longer a place exists and the larger it becomes, the more zoning takes place to handle incompatible land use, such as dirty factories being beside homes. A place advanced enough to have sizeable industry is also advanced enough to have zoned that into separate areas. More mature towns may also have separate housing areas for the wealthy or upper class, but this is not always the case and we can have different classes mixed.

When laying out a settlement, consider whether these zones exist. Unless it’s been rezoned, “old town” will have mixed use, possibly with buildings that are a store on the first floor and a home on the second; this might have been the original purpose, now changed. Upper-class areas might be by the river (upstream) or higher up a mountain, or near another natural resource like a glade or lakeshore, away from industry. Farmlands are obviously farther out from the settlement. Otherwise, we have residential and commercial zones, but they tend to be near each other, just like they are in your town; this sort of zoning is often on a block-by-block basis because no one wants to travel far. For that reason, the wealthiest might live in the center of town.