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.