Cities are so important for all worldbuilding projects – RPG Campaigns, Fantasy Novels, and especially urban fantasy stories! And so you’ll want to worldbuild towns, cities, and settlements… and chances are you want to do it quickly! After all, you’ve got a DnD game to play or a novel to write. So here’s a tonne of questions to help you flesh out your cities quickly!
Of course, you don’t need to answer every worldbuilding prompt here to create a great city. Just stick with the questions that inspire you. And you probably only need one or two sentences for each question. And remember, if you’re looking for a full worldbuilding template for cities, make sure you check out the settlement worldbuilding template on World Anvil, which is available for free!
Rather watch a vid than read a blog? Check out the video first, then read up on the details in the blog post! And don’t miss the worldbuilding challenge at the end of this video and the blog post!
Tip 1 is to figure out WHERE is the town or city you’re worldbuilding first?
Don’t make your cities and then just drop them on the map! That’s a one-way ticket to generic cities which feel blah. After all, cities are a product of the geography they’re in. So make sure you start by figuring out where your city is, roughly on the map!
The most common place for locating cities is either by the sea or along a river. Another hotspot for worldbuilding cities is next to significant resources or in strategic locations which need defending. By the way, I made an ENTIRE VIDEO essay about where cities should go on the map. Follow that link for even more information on this topic!
The choice of where your city grows will change the nature of your city in myriad ways, from climate to resources, to conflicts, culture, drama, and natural enemies! So think carefully about this when you start worldbuilding a city or town for your story or DnD campaign.
Tip 2 for Worldbuilding cities: remember to consider the climate!
Now you’ve placed your city on the map, the next thing to think about is the climate! If you worldbuild a city on a freezing mountain top, it’ll have different issues to overcome than a city in a desert, for example.
Remember to think about seasons too – is there a monsoon season, or are four regular seasons? How varied are the temperature and weather conditions? Are there any other common disasters, like magical storms, floods or earthquakes, which they need to protect themselves against?
Understanding how your city overcomes the issues of its surroundings is an important part of worldbuilding a city or town. After all, climate affects everything from which resources are most urgent, to what food is available! It’ll also help guide you towards what the architecture and habits of the people who live there are like.
Tip 3 for world-building a town? Resources and Trade!
Now you know where your city is located and what the climate’s like, it’s time to think about what your city is made from, and what it runs on. What resources are common, and what needs to be imported?
Remember to think about what the city’s wealth was built on: fine steel, spun yeti wool, silver, agriculture, or the whaling industry? Deciding which resources are common and which are rare is a great way to start showing wealth disparity in your city, too. The rich people will probably have access to expensive or rare resources, whilst poorer people may not. For example, rich people may build their houses from imported marble, middle class people from local stone, and the poorest from cheaper resources like wood.
This is a great moment to start thinking about your tone and genre too – your World Anvil meta article will really help you here. A sci-fi city might be a futuristic version of silicon valley. If you’re worldbuilding a city for a fantasy novel, its main export might be trained mages or magical items. Do you want your city to feel grim and hopeless? Then limit what resources are available. Think outside the box here, and remember to consider what impact that will have on the character of your city as a whole!
Tip 4 for world building a city: Write a bit of history!
I’m not saying write a full history of your city – that’ll take too long. But creating a few past events can really help you give flavor to your city! Have there been any cataclysms or catastrophic events that still affect the present? If your city is rich or desirable, has anyone tried to raid it – either bandits or another country? If so, this is a great time to think about your city’s military and defenses. Has the city always belonged to this nation, or has it changed hands? That’ll have a big effect on culture and architecture in your city.
And if there were major earthquakes, fires, plagues, or famines, how has that impacted the way the city functions and is governed today? How about revolutions or massive religious conversions? Are there plaques, statues or holidays commemorating these events, or rules to prevent these things from happening again? How are those rules enforced, and what happens if people break them?
All this stuff is going to help you create a more character-centric city – what kinds of things your character will see on the streets, and what your city will feel like. It’ll also help you answer questions about the city’s cultures, traditions and taboos. This is the stuff that will make your city feel unique, and which your player character in your DnD game, and your main characters from your novels, are going to connect with.
Tip 5: Worldbuilding current affairs for your city or town!
Finally, you’ve almost finished worldbuilding your city. You know exactly where it is (this is a great time to add it to your interactive map on World Anvil), what challenges it faced in the past, and a few details of how it looks – inside and out. Now it’s time to put it in motion, and make it feel bustling and alive! How? With current affairs!
We’ve talked before on this channel about World Drama – these are current affairs for your world setting. Refer to those in your meta page on World Anvil, and think about how they might be affecting your city specifically. For example, a war in the neighboring country might mean refugees fleeing over the border into your newly made city. This is a great way to make your city feel like it’s connected to the wider tapestry of your world.
You can also add some current affairs specifically for your city – I’d suggest about five different aspects. Make sure they’re right for the genre and tone of your world, too! Even in dark worlds, it’s important to remember to include a mix of good or bad. These current affairs may include any of the following, and more:
- governmental scandals
- new technologies
- food shortages
- Random sinkholes appearing
- a spate of high-profile crimes
- an elaborate festival is just about to happen
So, why do you need to worldbuild current affairs in your cities and towns?
Well, apart from making your city feel alive and in motion, you now always have something for your side characters or NPCs to talk about in the background! Remember not everyone in the city will have the same opinion about each of the current affairs issues. Some might be conspiracy theorists, others might downplay the issues, and some might be preparing for the worst! This is a great way to show variety in your world, and prevent your city from feeling boring and one-dimensional. It’s also an endless source of conflict, side quests and B plots. HUZZAH!
CHALLENGE TIME: Worldbuilding cities and towns challenge
It’s CHALLENGE TIME! We challenge you to put these worldbuilding tips into practice with the following prompt:
Write about a city or town in your world which is unusual or unique for some reason!
Submit your prompt here! You can also read other authors’ and GMs’ answers if they’ve chosen to make them public!
Remember to consider where the city is, and how the location and climate have impacted the way it’s grown and what it needs to survive. Think about what might be going on there right now, and what might have happened there in the past to shape it. And remember, for even more tips on worldbuilding towns and cities, check out our full worldbuilding template for cities and towns – the settlement template – available on World Anvil for free!
Do you have tips for worldbuilding cities? Share them in the comments below, and also your pet hates – what people do wrong when they’re worldbuilding cities?