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The other night I was designing the first town for my upcoming D&D campaign, and after a while I quickly ran into a wall: although I knew enough to include an inn, a fishing market (for the town's main export), and a few guard towers, I wasn't sure what other types of shops I should include. I know the generic types of stores range from things like blacksmiths and armories to enchanters and potion shops, but the subject matter seems so wide that I'm afraid I might forget something obvious and potentially ruin the sense of immersion for the players when my mistake is caught. So, something along the lines of a list with the types of shops that one can expect to find in a town would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is probably too broad as is. There are hundreds of options for types of shops that might appear in a town. Generally, any tradesman that exists in the town would have a shop there. Consider this list of 100 medieval careers: abutterflydreaming.com/2009/02/06/100-medieval-careers. Many of those could have an associated store front. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ethan
    Mar 14, 2015 at 0:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ What size town are you trying to build? \$\endgroup\$
    – Shalvenay
    Mar 14, 2015 at 1:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why do you feel the need to predetermine every shop in the town? There is nothing immersion-destroying in telling the players that there are a couple of buildings or streets that are home to miscellaneous stores, giving a couple of specific examples. If the players ask for somewhere specific give it to them (or don't, based on the request) - you can add it in to the miscellaneous shops on the fly. Your time as GM is much better spent creating a story for the characters, not mapping out every piece of minutiae they may never even want/need/find. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14, 2015 at 1:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Winterblood My concern with predetermining the stores was that I wanted to have a map of the town drawn out for the PCs, as I saw somewhere else that that was a good way to present a town to the players. I see what you mean, though, about my time being better spent on other things. I'll try to not scrutinize as much over these types of things. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14, 2015 at 1:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JamesGames2k Maps are good, but town maps either require tiny towns, tons of work, or that you leave most of the buildings unlabelled and fill things in as they come up. Zoning is useful in the last case. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14, 2015 at 4:26

3 Answers 3

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The general answer

Think in terms of food, clothing and shelter. Where do these things come from? How do they get made/repaired? The more remote the town is, the more they'll be self sufficient in terms of basic necessities, but also the less variety of materials/products - and stores and workers there will be. In some cases, it might be each family has someone in the extended family who can do one of the key tasks, and you better hope your uncles are good at carpentry or you'll just have to live with a leaky roof.

What's easy to do is instead of thinking of EVERY possible shop or workshop that you'd need, is think of where generally in town it would sit. You have docks, so naturally fish, seaweed, local trade, and boat making/repair (hulls, sails, oars, nets) will be there. If you have general sections of town, if a player asks, you can simply say "Oh, of course, it's in this section" and just declare there's an appropriate shop.

Specifics

There's been tons of sources listing out some of these things, ranging from AD&D costs of hirelings to things like Burning Wheel's lifepath system, to websites focused on historical living in ancient times. This is a LOT of research and frankly I find it doesn't pay off in terms of fun in play to do, but you can try if you're really invested in it.

Immersion, what kind and how to make it easier?

First off, understand when people say "Immersion" they may mean many different things and what you are looking to do, probably doesn't depend on you having exactly mapped out each building, each inhabitant or every item in the game world. It also doesn't depend on 100% historical accuracy.

In fact, unless you're playing a game about guilds instigating a trade war or attempting to crush out their rivals through clever engineering of regulations on the size and weight of bread loaves (which...happened actually in history...), odds are pretty good the players aren't going to be having the time of their lives shopping for stuff.

"I need replacement boots."

"The attendent spends 30 minutes shaping leather to get your foot size. It's pretty uncomfortable and weird, but you spend the time watching the bugs on the wall. A week later, your new boots are ready. You pay by bringing two chickens, tied and carried by their legs, and one poops on the side of your pants before you step through the door."

If you're a new DM, you should probably think about what things the players find fun, if immersion's part of it, what definition of immersion they're using, and what techniques will help that, and what prep helps you make that happen without necessarily making a full list of shops.

For me - I write down what a town has good abundance of both in terms of resources and skilled people and where they are lacking. "Fishing Village, knows local waters and weather, has skilled boatsmen in light craft, can repair simple things easily, and has a few trade languages they know well. Has only basic and functional smithing and weaving." With these notes, I just improvise the rest.

If you feel totally stuck, "Wait, there's someone who makes barrels? Oh geez, I didn't think of that!" - you can simply talk to your players as players - "Hey, I'm new at this, let's take 5 minute bathroom break and let me think about how that works." But, odds are, unless you're playing a very unusual game, that this particular issue is probably not what your players are interested in.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I might have been freaking out a little too much over nothing. Sorry about that. I'll definitely use this advice in the future (if only to keep myself from trying to find a way to accurately price shoelaces), so thank you very much. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14, 2015 at 1:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's no problem - GMing seems like a big thing and honestly there's a LOT of people who are really into designing 200 NPCs for every town. In my experience though, that's not the way most people get benefit in play from. \$\endgroup\$
    – user9935
    Mar 14, 2015 at 3:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ The cool thing I've discovered when GM'ing is that most of the really awesome stuff the GM has is pulled off the top of his head. Generally, I write up an outline of the potential major characters and events of a session beforehand, and then for npc's I'll just make up a personality on the spot as needed. Makes the world seem more broad, and the players don't know you are struggling to keep up and think you planned everything out. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ethan
    Mar 15, 2015 at 5:33
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The easiest answer, if you aren't drawing it out, is to just say "Yes, there is in fact a shoe store: 'Jacksons's Imperial Boots Emporium.'"

I would also say that, unless it's exceedingly small (or perhaps, especially if it is such), then it would also have a trading center in the middle of town where people can just set up booths, instead of permanent stores.

Also, those inns should generally not be "The" inn, but one of a few inns, unless it's quite small. Having more than one of something lends legitimacy to the setting, especially if 2 have been parked right next to each other, and have an openly competitive relationship.

Without more specific details about the town, I can't really tell you much more. I assume it's a fishing town, as it's the main trade good. Food-based economies tend to have the largest markets/trading centers, and only occasional proper stores. So, you could probably really make the blacksmith "The" blacksmith who serves everyone.

I'd say that enchanters and potion smiths are wandering tradesmen, if I was doing it, as a small town just can't support the high prices that magical items entail.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, this helps a lot. I didn't intend to leave the town with only one inn, just I thought I might want to add shops before a second inn. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14, 2015 at 1:48
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In the comments you mention that the town will feature a population of primarily fishermen and travelling merchants - use this to your advantage.

With even just a few travelling merchants in the town at any given time the timber and stone stores may be minimal in a small town situated on a trade route. A couple of permanent stores (general store, blacksmith) may be all that you need to define, with the travelling merchants providing most of the other goods that are on offer.

This also makes your mapping task easier - provide a couple of "real" stores, then most everything else can be found at either the town square/bazaar (if your town allows merchant stalls) or at the inn(s).

Also remember that in smaller towns one store is more likely to cover a wider variety of goods because there isn't a large enough population to warrant a whole store for a product. Your general store may sell clothing, pottery, adventuring gear and cookware, the inn may offer trail rations and common potions alongside warm meals, alcohol and beds, and your blacksmith may keep a small stock of magic items (not just weapons & armour) and leather goods.

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