Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement.

Location, Location, Location

No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing a map, you don’t have to draw the latter and might choose to focus mostly on the larger towns and cities.  Still, you should consider whether nearby places are friend or foe.  Even places farther away might be an enemy that this settlement needs to fear – or wants to attack first.  Some places will be allies, too.

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Nearby land features (forests, mountains, etc.) might be home to hostile races or creatures.  This is one reason to draw a map first and then start deciding what your city is like and what the residents have to contend with.  Are there any important land features inside the town?  This includes magical and supernatural places, or maybe a religious site.

All of these will determine what sort of fortifications you settlement has, from a castle to walls, archery towers, moats, and gates (number, type, and location).  It also determines if the settlement expects to be attacked and has cleared land around it of forests an approaching army can hide in.  Have there been any major wars or battles involving this place?  Has the city or a castle within been destroyed and rebuilt?

The number and type of armed forces are also affected by location.  Is there only a local militia, cavalry, knights, or a garrison for an army?  Are there enough wizards to aid in a defense?  Is the average person trained in how to use a sword just in case or are they sitting duck peasants that will get wiped out pretty easily?

Water Supply

Don’t forget that there must be water for your citizens.  Your basic options are a river, lake, or well.  The latter will significantly impact how big your settlement can get (forget about a city).  You don’t need to comment on this much in your writing but avoid putting your settlement somewhere that doesn’t have water.  An ocean doesn’t count as that water can’t be consumed without making people sick.

Races and Species

Which non-humans are living in your city?  Elves, dwarves, and even dragons might be welcome and have special quarters designed for them.  Or they might be shunned.  If there’s an elven forest or dwarven mountain nearby, this will affect how often that race is seen and what the likely attitude toward them is.  People tend to be more tolerant of something seen more often, unless there’s been conflict, of course.

Are “evil” races there?  Are they known to be there or do they generally sneak around?  Is the city overrun by them and all the decent races are the ones who must skulk around?

Who Rules

Authors often overlook what type of government runs a city, but you should have some idea, whether this has any direct effect on the stories you want to tell or not (it can just be a backdrop or something you decide not to mention at all, though that’s easier to get away with if your story/characters only pass through).  Equally important is whether someone else is truly running the settlement.  You might have a city council as the nominal head but a clandestine organization is really in power, whether through bribery, intimidation, or violence.  This can add a nice level of intrigue.

Important People

Your settlement probably has people important to either it or your story.  This can be the obvious city leaders to heroes, villains, warriors, and wizards.  When creating such a character, try to think of some reason they are either from here or living here now.  Is there something about this settlement that triggered their personality or drew them here?

If someone’s a villain, maybe they want to live somewhere out of the way to work in secret.  Or maybe they want a big population to do evil experiments on with a missing person being less noticed.  If you don’t find a reason, you’ll soon realize it’s no fun creating these people at all and you’ll just skip it.  This can be fine if you’re creating many cities.  Just fill in these people later when you feel like it.

How It Is Known

Every settlement tends to be known for something, such as a product.  Do they make great wines?  Weapons?  Are their knights amazing?  The wizards?  Or is the place just run down and a haven for bad people like pirates?  The reputation can help you craft an overall viewpoint that really adds character to a settlement.


Figuring out what secrets your settlement has can be a lot of fun.  This can include catacombs, weird supernatural phenomenon, evil organizations, races, monsters, or people no one knows are there.  You can create the secret and then have your characters be the one to discover the truth, which is all the more fun if the truth is horrible and right under everyone’s nose.

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How Many Places to Create

You may need to create a variety of settlements, but the number and type will depend on your intentions.  I decided long ago to create one setting and really go into detail, intending to set most of my novels there.  As a result, I made over 50 cities and towns.  When creating such a large volume, it makes sense to create certain items in bulk.

For example, I created the major product of every settlement at once.  I did the same with banners, city colors, and symbols.  This helped ensure variety.  I did this in a spreadsheet and then just copied the info over to each city file later.  If creating many, decide which cities have the biggest populations and which ones are oldest/newest.

Remember that products will have much to do with land features nearby.  A lake town will not be building a ship-of-the-line (you wouldn’t sail such a ship on one unless the lake is huge).  A mountainous town isn’t likely to be known for its horses (there’s nowhere flat for them to run).  A city not near a forest is unlikely to export furniture due to a general lack of wood to build such excess; it will instead be a place importing it from somewhere else.  This can even be a conflict, where the only available, suitable wood is near another city laying claim to it.


In Part 2, I’ll provide the template I use for creating a settlement.

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement Read More …

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or Read More …

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t Read More …

Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice Read More …

How Mountains Affect Rainfall

When drawing maps of continents, being realistic is a good idea even when inventing for a fantasy or SF landscape. We’re not freed from plausibility unless we’re purposely throwing out the laws of physics and nature. Most of us are Read More …

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the Read More …

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them Read More …

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the Read More …

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them Read More …

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A Read More …

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make Read More …

My Guest Post

Today, author John Robin was kind enough to publish a guest post of mine about species and races in world building. You can read it here. The article is drawn from Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1), which Read More …

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have Read More …

5 thoughts on “Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1”

  1. Interesting article.

    It is an interesting argument of whether you tune your land to suit your people of the other way around. In the fantasy I am currently working on, though my first town had all the basic needs for survival, as my world grew and my heroes travelled, I worked the other way around and thought of what sort of settlements certain places could support. This also impacted elements of my plot. You also need to consider how fast people can travel, how far away they can live with each other and so on. In a wild environment villages might need to huddle together as with limited resources they will need each other and will not want to be far apart.

    It is a lot to consider. Here is a tutorial about creating a map and what I see as important.


    1. Thanks for the comment. You raise a good point and your approach is a bottom-up verses top-down (as I have blogged about) – or maybe I have that backward. 🙂 But my point is that it’s a different and viable way to create setting, to focus on what your story needs and go from there. I do this with some of my stories as well and it offers great flexibility. On the other hand, if intending to set a lot of stories in the same world, the bottom-up approach can cause inconsistency if we aren’t careful.

  2. You know, it never occurred to me that the size of the walls and amount of defense had more to do what was inside the city than what was outside it. I’m glad I read this.

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