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There is a lot of material written on random generation of dungeons for play. But inevitably characters have to return from the to spend those ill-gotten gains. And where else but a nearby settlement, be it village, town, or city?

Obviously the larger the settlement the more involved or recursive the process could become. But does anyone have some good methods for quickly generating or stocking a village or town? For example, information like (but not limited to):

  • Local leader (e.g. minor noble, major noble, church official, usurping villian, etc)
  • Defensible structures (wall, keep, castle, etc)
  • Number, size, and affiliation of temples
  • Number and size of taverns or inns
  • Major export / economic focus

My goal is to be able to generate something like the Keep in the Keep on the Borderlands (or at least a sketch that could be developed into something similar). For reference, I've consulted AD&D 1st edition, D&D 3.5 DMG, A Magical Medieval City Guide, and Judge's Guild Ready Ref Sheets. Now I'm looking for you help and recommendations. Thanks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is on topic, he’s asking “how to do it” not for specific tools or products, which we have agreed is the “right way” to ask a question that would otherwise be shopping. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 22 at 0:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk: Yeah, I think the issue has more to do with the answers (which are almost all currently tool recommendations, and mostly don't include much more than a link to the resource) than the question itself. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 22 at 4:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I'm not so sure. Seems to me that several answers all being the same flavor of wrong are the symptom, not the problem. \$\endgroup\$ – sevenbrokenbricks Jul 22 at 5:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @sevenbrokenbricks I agree, but I think the problem was that nine years ago we were still okay with this kind of answer. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jul 22 at 9:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, all the previous answerers should consider expanding their answers to not be link-only based on current site standards. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 25 at 14:22
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Been a while since I've used these and I think most are 3rd ed at best but they are good to have around for ideas. I still use the tavern one all the time.

For taverns try: http://archive.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/dnd/20010223d

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    \$\begingroup\$ Second link is now dead and I see no replacement in web archive \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jul 22 at 14:20
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Before you can place a town or city, you must first have a world to place it in. When building your world you will need to determine general aspects that apply to your entire world, such as gods and their religions, races and their cultures, empires and their locations and other questions beyond the scope of this question. Once you have your world, you then want to create some general tables for different aspects of the hamlet/town/city you want to place.

Develop tables for describing and possibly randomly determining different factors. Note that some of the factors will not apply to any but the largest cities, but having them allows you use them for flavor in smaller settings, such placing either a government in exile or an assassins guild in an isolated hut somewhere.

Tables for the town or city you are building:

  • Differing town sizes:

    • isolated hut
    • isolated shop/tavern, possibly with a few houses
    • small hamlet
    • village
    • town
    • city
    • capital or important large city
  • Geographic features:

    • abundance or lack of local water transport
    • abundance or lack of mineral resources (mining town/trade-town)
    • abundance or lack of fresh water
    • abundance or lack of good farmland. Clay soil? Sandy soil?
    • forested? Desert? Swamp? Rock slab? Volcano? Glacier?
  • Cultural influences:

    • how long ago was the town/city founded?
    • what races make up it's population (and what cultures did they come from?)
    • nearby nations or empires, and their relations
    • commerce: who trades with them, what do they have/desire to trade?
    • What religions are represented locally?
    • who are your neighbors? Evil empire? Necromancer? My little pony?

Now build smaller template tables for substructures to place in town:

  • Temples

    • size of temple
    • population and probably power/influence of local priest
    • alignment of god, unusual practices of religion
  • Government:

    • type; dictator, monarchy, democracy, anarchy, mixture
    • leader and personality: paranoid, thoughtful, secretive
    • quality and skills of leader's cabinet/yes-men
    • infrastructure: quality of roads, water/waste distribution, taxation
    • type of laws currently in force (passing on the left results in beheadings)
    • defensive ability: military recruiting, size of walls/moats/giant lava trap
  • Economic structures/buildings/groups:

    • retail sales: (taverns, chandler/general store, specialty stores)
    • manufacture: (smith, wagon, building, ship, baker, butcher, candlestick maker)
    • resource extraction: Loggers, miners, farmers, fishers, hunters
    • trade: warehouses, factors, shippers, docks
    • guilds: assassin, shoemaker, scribe, necromancer

Once you generate buildings and arrange them pleasingly in your city, think of how the tables above interact with one another. You may have a mining town that is landlocked, has little trade, and poor farmland. This will tend to drive food prices sky high, which won't be helped by the new law that restricts imported foods types that are acceptable to the local temple, but the population won't have time to starve due to the plague problem drifting in from the nearby swamp and the fact that the local mayor is recruiting everyone not nailed down to provide cannon fodder for defense from the recent zombie invasion.

You can assume generic NPCs for the most part, but you will still want to place some quirky NPCs for flavor, random encounters, and also as agents or henchmen for your planned Big Bad. But NPC generation is also outside of the scope of this question, so I'll leave my answer at that.

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Medieval Demographics (PDF File) is one of my goto documents on generating material.

Medieval Demographics discusses two areas of interest. One how to calculate the population of a realm. Two how to calculate the number of shops in a settlement.

Both area use straight forward math to calculate the figures. Both area are based on the author's research using medieval sources and medieval data.

There are several sites that do the calculations for you such this one on Donjon

The principle for villages is straight forward. Figure out how many people it would take to support a viable business then divide that factor into the populate. The whole number is the number of establishments that exist. The remainder is the percentage chance that one additional establishment of that type exists.

S John Ross has been criticized for using unrepresentative data that was found in Life in a Medieval City which is based on a tax census called the Paris Tax Roll.

I created an alternative take more suited for Fantasy setting at this link. It is meant to work with this price list. This is a spreadsheet showing I used the paris tax roll to derive my take.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, Medieval Demographics Made Easy is pure awesome. I have both Fief and Town on my wishlist. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Feb 24 '11 at 0:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast S John Ross has distributed the official version as a PDF to multiple websites including my own. I updated the link and the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – RS Conley Jul 25 at 14:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you add some more information to this answer as to why it's awesome and your experience with it that makes it the best answer to the OP's question? Link-only answers are looked on more balefully nowadays. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 25 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RSConley Thank you! I respect your judgment on the quality of materials, so I admit to being a bit selfish with that comment. (I want it! 8^D ) I'll likely drop by BiTA later today. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 25 at 14:59
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Check out Kellri's CDD#4. It has a good section on settlement design (written for AD&D 1e, but easily adaptable to other editions).

Another resource that's less useful for the nitty-gritty details but is great for inspiration is the Settlements and Countries section of Tables for Fables. It's eclectic and not very well organized, but it's a treasure trove of ideas.

Lastly, I haven't used it, but tons of people swear by AEG's Ultimate Toolbox.

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This has become my favorite resource for generating towns:

http://www.mathemagician.net/town.html

It does pretty much everything you describe here.

To give an example of the level of detail provided, it tells who is likely to be at a tavern at any given time in the day, including staff, entertainers, and patrons.

Combine that with the RPG City Map Generator, and you are set.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The mathemagician.net link is still alive and works fine. He removed metropolis due to an agreement with the ISP. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 22 at 12:52
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I found an incredibly helpful table in one of the D&D subreddits that does exactly this. It takes a few minutes to use, but it's very thorough!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Link only answers are discouraged on RPG.SE, and tool recommendation answers are off-topic. This question isn't asking for tool recommendations, specifically, and as you can see the bounty on this question is asking for "answers that either describe their analog process or that when citing a digital "helper" describe the data sources and decision algorithms employed." Can you elaborate on your own process for city creation or go into more detail about the process in the link? \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude May 21 '16 at 1:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ ...That being said, I've bookmarked that reddit thread for my own future use. ;) \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude May 21 '16 at 1:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ all this^^, @LegendaryDude (including the bookmarking!) In fact I think it's be worth asking, Robert, whether the author over at Reddit has any interest in posting that here or has objection to you blockquoting much of that here? That'd be an excellent scheme to have in this database, I think. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 21 '16 at 17:47

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