Villages and Towns - Part 1

Village and Town World-Building - Part 1

Creating a home village or town for your PC's

by Patrick Bird

Every adventuring group has to start somewhere, be it a small keep on the borderlands with caves nearby, a village near a ruined moathouse, a port town with a supposedly haunted house on a nearby hill, or any of a dozen other settings. The small town or village with an inn for resting between adventures and a tavern for collecting rumors is essential to the adventurer's base needs. And creating such a starting settlement is important for the GM who is building a campaign for the players to explore. This is the first in a series of articles that will explore how to build a settlement for the heroes to use as a home base.

The terms 'village' and 'town' are often used interchangeably though they mean different things. In the realms of fantasy play a village usually has a population of less than 1,000 while a town has a population from 1,000 to 6,000. We'll use the term settlement to represent both.

Most settlements have a small central area that is the commercial and governmental center of the settlement. This area will always have two types of buildings: a gathering place, often a tavern, and a general store. There will also be several cottage industries which represent work that can be done in and around one's home. The village tailor, weaver, or seamstress are common examples of small scale cottage industries. There are also large scale cottage industries that require extra space outside the home. Blacksmiths, woodworkers, coopers who make barrels and wainwrights who build and repair wagons are large cottage industries that require a secondary building as a workshop.

The rest of the settlement will be called the outskirts and will mostly consist of industry that requires a large amount of space and many people to work. This is where one will find the farms, ranches, orchards, lumber camps, quarries, mines and other industries that supply the essentials for the settlement's survival; items and goods needed for food and shelter or refined natural resources for the residents to use and for working in the cottage industries: trees to boards, ore to iron, cattle to food and leather, and so on. The outskirts will have small, medium, and large industries.

Settlement Center

Generally no more than 10% to 20% of the population live in the settlement center with the rest living in the outskirts. This can vary depending on the location and situation. A settlement on a trade route may have more residents in town to take care of travelers, a settlement on a lake or ocean may have more residents living in town to help process the catch of the day. A settlement in a dangerous place might have almost all its residents living inside a log palisade for safety and only leaving during the day to go to work in the forests, farms, and fields.

Each settlement center will have some form of government and the buildings associated with it. This can be a small council, an elected, appointed, or hereditary mayor, or a civilian or military governor sent by the ruler of the region the settlement is in. At the least there will be someone like a justice of the peace whose job is to handle day-to-day matters of law, collect taxes due and secure them, and provide mediation for disputes. There will usually be peacekeepers acting to keep order and there will frequently be a militia that can be called up in times of trouble.

The commercial opportunities for small and large cottage industries are plentiful and rely on the type and quality of raw materials available. Several types have been mentioned above both small that can be done in one's home such as weaving, and large, such as furniture making. There will also be the aforementioned gathering space, usually a simple tavern or an inn with a tavern, and the general store. In addition to these will possibly be small shops and/or a large open market.

The residences for those who work in the settlement center will be nearby, sometimes connected to the shops and workplaces and sometimes separate. None of these are likely to be ostentatious unless you have a reason for making them so. An example of this might be a village mayor who is a very successful retired adventurer who built a stone walled manor house to both display and protect their wealth.

The settlement center also will be the place where any defensive structures would be found, if any exist at all. If the area is prone to having raids or attacks from organized opponents intent on pillaging the settlement there will be both some form of defensive structures, such as a wooden palisade or perhaps a small keep or large tower, and additional structures or spaces within the defensive perimeter for emergencies: a cistern or well for water, a silo for grain, storehouses for food and perhaps arms and armor, and/or a paddock for animals.

Example Settlement: Alberton

Now that the basics for a settlement have been set out we can determine what our starting settlement will be like. I'll place it in a fertile area near a forested valley that extends back towards some mountains. There'll be a trade road running through the settlement and a small river too. The area is relatively peaceful now but there have occasionally been problems with bandits and raiders in the past so the people maintain a militia. I'll make this settlement a village instead of a town so it'll have a smaller population. I'll say that this village has around 500 people. I'll also randomly make up a name for it: Alberton.

With around 500 people on a minor trade route, I'll say that about 15% live in the settlement center. I'll also say that there's roughly a 1:1 adult:child ratio here, so we'll have 35 adults (age 16 and up) and 40 children in the settlement center. These numbers are not absolute but they will be our guideline.

Alberton is on a trade route so it will likely have an open market in the settlement center right next to the road. The main businesses and government buildings (if any) will be around this market. The general store and the inn and tavern will be here. There will be a stable connected to the inn for travelers' horses. There should be a blacksmith next to the stable paddock, and a justice of the peace's office including a strongroom (for tax monies and other goods) and a jail near the general store.

Populating these buildings will be fairly quick. The inn and tavern will have five adults and a few older children helping. The inn's stable will have two adults and two children helping. Since the general store is going to be a fairly large concern we'll have six adults and four children helpers there. The blacksmith and his wife have an adult apprentice blacksmith and three older children learning the job. The justice of the peace will have two dedicated clerks and perhaps two children learning from them. The storeroom doesn't require any dedicated workers, but there will be a peacekeeper force in the jail and on patrol equal to 1% of the population. That means five adults working as peacekeepers, with extra security available in times of need from trusted members of the militia.

That accounts for two-thirds of the adult population and fourteen of forty children. Eleven adults still need to be placed in our settlement center. This is where the cottage industries come into play. Most will be in essential trades, so we'll say that there is a woodworker who fulfills a variety of woodworking needs, a tinker who repairs old items and makes some new, a leatherworker who mainly makes tough outerwear as well as boots and shoes, and a jack-of-all-trades tailor. The tailor and the leather worker are small cottage industries while the other two are large ones. The two large cottage industries have three adult workers each while the smaller have two. Each will also average two children helping. That accounts for all but one adult and half the children. There will also be a general handyman who works for whoever needs the extra help and gets paid to clean up the market after market days. The remaining children we can say are too young to be doing more than chores around the house.

The settlement center is where most of the action will take place for the adventurers, so the outskirts require less effort. With a 1:3 adult:child ratio in the outskirts that gives us around 106 adults. Around two-thirds of the industries on the outskirts will involve food for the population while the remaining one-third will be involved in other industries. An average of ten adults per large scale industry means we can have up to ten large scale industries on the outskirts, so we'll start there.

Five large scale industries will be basic farming concerns. There will be three large industries that fulfill more than one role, for instance a cattle ranch that supplies both food items and raw goods for refinement, in this case skins for leather. So we'll have one cattle ranch, one sheep ranch, and an orchard that also grows crops like hemp or cotton. That has taken up 80 of our population of 106. Of the twenty six remaining we'll divide them between two medium scale industries with an average of seven adults each and three small scale industries with four adults each. Our two medium scale industries will be a forestry industry providing trees for lumber and a smaller horse ranch breeding horses and oxen for travelers, merchants, and for work in the larger industries. The small scale industries will often be related to the larger scale ones. The river will have both a sawmill powered by a water wheel and a gristmill powered the same way to turn grains into flour and meal. The third will be a larger stable, probably on or near the main road on the outskirts, where horses and oxen are sold. That accounts for our adult population, but there are a couple more small industries I want to include. There will be a tannery, probably on the far outskirts near the cattle ranch, to turn hides into leather. I also will have a small pottery industry creating vessels for storage of food products and items for the home.

Alberton is almost done, but I need to add in religious buildings as a cleric's aid may be needed. The biggest church will likely cater to the majority population and be close to where they are, so a church to some god or goddess of agriculture will be In the outskirts. As the biggest church it will likely have the most clergy, about 1% of the population, so we'll say five actual clerics. A smaller temple will be in the settlement center, probably of a god or goddess of merchants. It will have only a single cleric. There might be a small shrine along the road in the outskirts that will have no regular clergy but will just be a place for the faithful to leave offerings, perhaps in a drop safe. A cleric of whatever faith it may be for will come by every so often to claim the donations before moving on. Based on this, it might be a shrine to the god or goddess of travel.

With all these decisions made the outline of the town of Alberton is complete and the developing can begin. Village and Town World-Building Part 2 will develop the individual places and people of Alberton and provide ways to get your players involved in the town itself. Stay tuned!