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Source GameMastery Guide pg. 202
None would deny that opportunities for great adventure lie within the dank dungeons, winding caves, and sprawling wildlands of the world. However, the place where the PCs come back to sell their treasures, rest, and live their lives can hold excitement as well. Urban settings shouldn’t be overlooked as a place of adventure. Filled with people, businesses, intrigue, and secret locations, cities can provide adventure hooks on literally every street corner.

This section looks at how settlements are put together, how the PCs move around them, what business can be conducted there, and how to craft your own adventures within a city, taking into account both real life elements and the incredible possibilities that magic affords to fantasy settings.

The Shape of Civilization

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 202
If you’re building a settlement from scratch, you’ll first need to determine how many people live there. Is it a tiny collection of houses along a lonely stretch of road? Is it a bustling village that sits at the crossroads of several major thoroughfares? Or is it a full city that serves as the hub for an entire region? Chapter 6 of this book contains a wealth of advice on how societies and civilizations function, but what happens when your PCs actually want to adventure in the city?

Before running an adventure in your city, you must decide what it looks and feels like. The first thing your PCs see as they approach a new city is its skyline. Unless you have a reason to avoid it, consider giving your city’s skyline at least one notable landmark. If a city’s skyline is shown in silhouette, a knowledgeable traveler should be able to recognize it. The landmark could be an unusually shaped building, a huge tower (such as a cathedral’s bell tower), a castle atop a hill, an immense statue of a dragon, a decommissioned warship protruding from a too-small waterfront, or anything else you can imagine, but being able to remind the PCs what city you’re talking about by mentioning this unique landmark gives you an incredibly useful resource.

The bulk of the buildings within any settlement are the homes of the people that live there. Many businesses merely present a storefront, with the rooms above or behind it serving as the owner’s home. If you’re following a medieval model for your city, then the typical home is host to a large number of people crammed into a relatively small space. The average peasant or freeman might only be able to afford a single room or two within a house, living cheek-to-jowl with his neighbors to either side and possibly above and below.

Buildings themselves are products of their environments and are built from materials readily available in the area. The terrain and climate of the land surrounding a city determines what that city is made of. A city in a temperate coastal area might have mostly wooden buildings with some stone structures. A desert town would have adobe or stone buildings, or even structures dug into the earth itself to create dark, cool places for people to live. Cities built in swamps or wetlands might have massive levees and dams to keep the water at bay.

If you’re having trouble visualizing the size and population of a village, town, or city, compare it to real-life locations and gauge accordingly. For example, at its height at the end of the 2nd Century, Rome boasted over a million people (although census records were sketchy—some report nearly 10 times that number!). During the 14th Century, Rome’s population had declined drastically to around 50,000 people. Although these numbers might not seem particularly impressive compared to modern cities, Rome was considered massive and teeming with people.

A heavily populated city does not necessarily translate to urban sprawl. For example, when London reached the 80,000 mark in the 14th Century, the populace was still squeezed within the confines of the ancient walls built by the Romans several centuries earlier, resulting in atrocious living conditions.

Another way to help conceptualize such huge numbers of people is to look at sports arenas, some of which can hold the population of a small or medium-sized town within a single vast structure. The famous Coliseum in Rome could hold 50,000 people at a time. Modern Yankee Stadium can hold nearly 60,000 people.

You should also consider the settlement’s level of sanitation and the presence of sewers. A city with decent sanitation copes with disease considerably better than those where people simply dump sewage in the streets. Settlements with sewers and other sanitation infrastructure also provide ready-made locations for your players to explore, hunting down criminals and cultists or searching for lost treasure, all beneath the feet of the unaware citizens walking the streets above.

Settlement Population Ranges

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 203
A settlement’s population is left to the GM to assign, but you can use a settlement’s type to help you determine just how many folks live in the city. Since the actual number of people who dwell in a settlement has no impact on game play, the number you choose is largely cosmetic—feel free to adjust the suggested values below to fit your campaign.
Settlement TypePopulation Range
ThorpFewer than 20
Small town201-2,000
Large town2,001-5,000
Small city5,001-10,000
Large city10,001-25,000
MetropolisMOre than 25,000

Settlements in Play

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 203
The best way to handle a settlement in your game, of course, is to plan it out, placing every shop and every home, naming every NPC, and mapping every building. Yet settlements are the most complicated locations you’re likely to ever feature in your game, and the prospect of fully detailing one is daunting, especially if your PCs are likely to visit multiple settlements.

Presented on the following pages are basic rules for a more streamlined method of handling settlements in your game. Essentially, these rules treat settlements almost as characters of their own, complete with stat blocks. Using these rules, you can generate the vital data for a settlement quickly and efficiently, and with this data you can handle the majority of your players’ interactions with the settlement.

Note that for particularly large cities, you can use multiple settlement stat blocks to represent different districts within a city. This allows you to have neighborhoods with distinct characteristics inside one city’s walls. GMs should feel free to add other new elements to create the cities they desire.