In my first World Building post I talked about starting small – giving your world a name, a brief history, a cosmological sketch, and then mapping out a single country. In this example, I mapped the island nation of Kalibor, home of the Elves. Now, we’re going to reduce the scale even more so that we can begin adding in specifics – we’re going to map and design a single town, a small town, the seaside village of Asari. Small towns are a great place to start campaigns because they don’t require a massive amount of planning on the DM/GM’s part. So, I’m going to go through how I plan a small town, the necessary NPCs who need a bit of detail, and how I set up relationships that can be either story hooks or sources of conflict that the PCs can encounter.
Necessities of Small Town Life. Before I even map the town, I brainstorm a list of shops, locations, and types of NPCs who are essential for the town to have based on the cultural practices and geographical location. Most small towns will require at least one inn that doubles as a tavern/public house (with associated innkeeper), some form of administrative government, a small constabulary, at least one religious organization, a general goods store, and at least 2-3 prominent families who may or may not get along. I then assign names to the locations and the major NPCs who will fill those roles. As a side note, when stuck on naming, the website Fantasy Name Generators is extremely helpful.
Town Name: Asari
Location: Western interior of Leviana Bay in Kalibor Asari is situated three days north (by horse) from the larger city of Ulla, two days east from the Grove of the Fallen, four days south from the regional capital of Velenor, and approximately a day-and-a-half’s ride west from the Verdant Jungle along the coastline.
Population: Approximately 200 (92% Elf, 5% Half-Elf, 3% Other)
Inn: The Raven & Phoenix – Innkeepers: Telurian Sionnadel and Phoenix Parker
Town Government: City High Council (Halimath Nailo, Cailynn Ardan, Daereth Lathalas, Biriel Ilphekiir, Sariel Thalimor, Malathas Garandel, Fivin Uthemar). Dock Master (Fivin Uthemar).
Constabulary: 35 guards under the leadership of Guard Captain Aevan Thalanor keep the peace. Most are local, but 8 have been brought in from Velenor to bolster numbers.
Religious Organizations: Three groups: Druid Grove (Grove Elder Niavara Mindratis), Temple of Umbralee (Priestess Nariella Silvertree), and Temple of Chanitua (Priest Ellarin Thalamor)
Merchants: Alsidayr’s General Goods (Alsidayr Greenbriar), Siona’s Blades (Siona Galanodel), Falinor’s Sea Supplies (Falinor Arendal).
Major Families: Ardan family, Ilphekiir family, Thalimor family, Galandel family, Lathalas family.
As you can see, at this stage, I’m doing little more than assigning names and roles that are essential to village life. I haven’t fleshed out personalities or histories or relationships yet. At this stage, I simply want to have a list of places and people that are essential for daily operations and village life. With this in hand, I can move to actually fleshing out the people and their relationships, and, in the process, fleshing out some of the specifics about their businesses.
You’ll notice that under “Town Government” I have included the position of Dock Master. That position is needed because this is a seaside village. It’s not a major port, but, because there are docks, someone has to be in charge of regulating any maritime action. And that’s something to consider: what types of NPCs will be needed due to the geographical location of the town?
NPC Personalities and Relationships. We now have our major NPCs for the small town we’re creating. But who are they? What makes them tick? Have they always been here? If not, why did they move here? If so, why did they stay? How do they interact with other members of the community? These are all things to think about when creating a town that feels real. I’ll admit, I shot myself in the foot a bit when I decided that even the small towns of Kalibor would have a City High Council of seven members. That’s pretty large for a small town of only a few hundred. But, as I have written, so must I flesh out. Let’s begin. In the interest of space, I will not flesh out the entire town here, but I will describe enough so that you get a sense of what I do.
NPC Personalities and Relationships
The Raven and the Phoenix – The Raven and the Phoenix is a two-story building with a large common room and kitchen on the first floor and twenty individual rooms on the second floor. The couple who owns it, Telurian Sionnadel (“The Raven of Singvale”) and Phoenix Parker, have recently moved to Asari to get away from the bustle of life in Singvale where Lady Sionnadel, a quiet and brooding woman, served as Ranger General until her “scandalous” relationship with the human female Phoenix Parker, a perky and jovial blonde who happens to be a talented chef and traveling lumberjack, forced her to choose her career or her love.
Constabulary: A small guard force comprised mostly of local citizens with a few troops brought in from Velenor to ensure order. Currently, the constabulary is comprised of 35 soldiers under the leadership of Guard Captain Aevan Thanalor (fresh-faced, even for an elf, male, a bit excitable but of good, friendly disposition).
- The Temple of Umbralee: This small white stone temple is dedicated to the Lady of the Seas and is located to the south of Falinor’s Sea Supplies. The temple is a large pool surrounded by a white stone wall. There is an altar near the eastern wall where the local priestess, Nariella Silvertree, performs ceremonies and sacrifices. Nariella is a wispy woman with piercing eyes of seafoam green whose personality mirrors that of the goddess she serves. Sailors often ask her to bless their vessels before embarking, and she often performs healing services for the village.
- The Druid Grove: Located to the north of Asari, beyond the High Council Chamber, sits a ring of trees with a small altar and pond at its center. Here the druids of Ferilan worship the Lord of Nature and train those seeking to follow the wild path. Niavara Mindratis, the Grove’s Elder, is a woman of five centuries who, though normally calm, has a very “mother bear” approach to both nature and the people of Asari. Her glare is feared by all on the High Council save for Halimath Nailo.
- The Temple of Chanitua: Located south of Siona’s Blades, the temple dedicated to the Lord of the Fields sits at the edge of the village’s southern farmland. This building alone resembles what many non-Elves assume a temple to be – a stone building wherein people enter to worship. The local priest, Ellarin Thalimor, is a young male, unhappy with his lot that his mother, Sariel, force upon him when she was elected to the city’s High Council three years ago when Lathiel Greenbriar (Alsidayr’s father) passed away.
- Alsidayr’s General Goods: Located across from The Raven and the Phoenix, the village’s general store is owned and operated by Alsidayr Greenbriar, although he is fairly deep in debt to one of the members of the High Council named Halimath Nailo. Here one will find general merchandise for daily needs of a small town and travelers. Alsidayr is a generally affable male with a wife and three children still at home (two have left to join the military). An amateur herbalist, Alsidayr does keep a few minor potions and tinctures in his store room, but never more than 4 in total and it often takes him 3-4 weeks to restock once he sells those.
- Siona’s Blades: Siona Galanodel is the daughter of the village’s blacksmith, Aeson Galanodel, and a talented smith in her own right. While her father supplies the local guards, Siona manufactures farming tools and other metal implements for the village. While she has earned some recognition for her skill, she has been granted little opportunity to make anything other than practical implements. Though charming and polite, she has difficulty hiding her frustration at the fact that she feels creatively stifled.
- Falinor’s Sea Supplies: Located just before the docks, Falinor Arendal, a Half-Elf with a Carpithoian mother, both sells supplies to and trades goods from local fishing vessels and the few international vessels who take harbor here (most head to the larger port city of Fyl on the northwest coast of Kalibor). Favoring his mother’s appearance, Falinor is the talk of gossip – perhaps he’s one of the Travelers or maybe a spy for the Triumvirate of Carpathoi – and the gossip wearies him, and his frustration becomes glaringly apparent when talk veers toward his personal life. He maintains a small flat above his shop and keeps to himself largely. There is a 3% chance that he will have “special”, “magical”, or “rare” items.
The Dock Master: Fivin Uthemar, a Wood Elf whose family came from Elvenore in the Verdant Jungle some three centuries ago, runs the docks. He grants licenses to those wishing to fish Leviana Bay for commercial purposes, collecting a small fee, as well as regulating trading vessels that occasionally (read: once per decade on average) port in Asari. He longs to be a sailor, but his foul-tempered stomach does not allow him to spend much time on boats. Generally a good-natured man, he is prone to bouts of depression wherein he often hides in a secret chamber beneath his estate for days at a time, leaving the Docks in the hands of his son, Jaren – who, though of good will, has been known to take a bribe or two.
Estate of Biriel Ilphekiir: The estate of Biriel Ilphekiir sits to the west of the Public Gardens. Lady Ilphekiir, though she does not enjoy being called by her title, is the longest-serving member of the High Council, going on her eighteenth year of service. She is intelligent, quick, and perceptive. Her family is the oldest family in Asari, and, as such, she and Halimath Nailo often find themselves at odds over issues of policy and interfamily diplomacy. She is viewed as wise by all, and, even when others disagree with her decisions, her words are respected by all – with one exception. The Ilphekiirs are talented alchemists, but they do not sell their wares to the general public, preferring to do business with governments and religious organizations through negotiated contracts.
Halimath Nailo: Arriving in Asari two years ago with a small guard force to settle “The Troubles,” a time of unrest brought about when a group of political agitators, The Knights of the Green Throne, led by Aeron Greenbriar found themselves unable to pay the pirates they hired to smuggle illicit magical items into Kalibor. Instead of simply killing Greenbriar and his orgnization, the pirates began their attempt to claim Asari as their own. At the request of Biriel Ilphekiir, Teluriel Sionnadel called in an old favor in Singvale to get aid from the Corps of Rangers. Ranger General Arielle Galarondel sent a young Flight Captain, Halimath Nailo, and his Quiver of Rangers (20 soldiers). These troops helped defeat the pirates, and the Triumvirate proclaimed Nailo “Representative of the Triple Crown,” and granted him a place on the City High Council. Nailo is a gruff, arrogant man whose heavy-handed approach to policy and justice have made him quite unpopular in Asari.
City High Council Members:
- Halimath Nailo – Representative of the Triple Crown
- Cailynn Ardan – Matriarch of the Ardan Olive Groves and Apple Orchards
- Daereth Lathalas – Patriarch of the Lathalas Herb Gardens
- Biriel Ilphekiir – Old Elven Nobility
- Sariel Thalimor – Matriarch of the Thalimor Vinyards and former Priestess of Chanitua
- Malathas Garandel – Patriarch of the Garandel Farmlands
- Fivin Uthemar – Dock Master
This is not everyone of importance in Asari, and, as you can see, I have not fully presented the full sketch of the town. That said, you can begin to see the characters and conflicts emerge. At this stage, all I need as DM is a brief character description – 2-3 words to describe the NPCs personality and outlook, a list of major relations with others, and 1-2 sentences to tell me of their history. Further details can be fleshed out as needed for the particular story being told in the campaign.
Looking above, a few major conflicts that can become plot hooks, rumors, and backgrounds for PCs can emerge. Asari isn’t a “sleepy little seaside town” as many might think. There appears to be a history of political unrest, the beginnings of a failed rebellion, possible treasure troves of illicit magical items, a shopkeeper struggling to repay debts that keep his shop open, political differences that could spark other forms of conflict, citizens of mixed blood who may/may not have ties to other political regimes, and craftspeople who long to express their creativity.
Additionally, a few other things emerge from the description presented, and this is often something that will happen – as you describe the characters and how they relate to the town, elements that flesh out the town and give it a unique flavor will emerge. In Asari’s case, it’s the Public Gardens in the center of town – a common field full of culinary herbs, vegetables, and a few fruit trees from which all who are hungry can gather, often enough, for a day’s sustenance.
Final Thoughts. When designing a small town, there will often be more in the design that the players ever meet. I have a tendency to over -plan things, but all that one really needs when starting out is a list of major shops/businesses/locations, brief sketches of major village NPCs, and a few sentences of relationships and conflicts that give the town a sense of life.
Starting small is less work on the DM/GM, because there are fewer people and places that need to be established. Beyond that, let the players add names and history with their characters and backstories. And that is what I’ll talk about next – how to use Session Zero (in whatever format you hold such a session) to get the players to help you flesh out, populate, and build your world.
Thoughts? Suggestions? How do you go about creating towns?
And now, for those still reading, I present my bad sketch map of Asari.