• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

Creating fantasy cities.

There is a game called "The Quiet Year" that is incredible for developing fantasy cities:

At the beginning of the game you develop a VERY rudimentary map (like 5 minutes) and then everyone comes up with a few resources based on where the village is that are in supply and shortage, then every turn is a week with prompt cards and a lore develops very quickly.
It's actually a blast too, so you can enlist friends to help with city creation and it is fun rather than a potential chore for them.

I can't sing the praises of this method enough; everything from building materials, local landmarks, legendary figures, cuisine, weaponry... it all develops really fluidly and naturally.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
That looks to be a clever game, with plenty of room for variants. But I was struck by the coincidence of cards and calendars. Why have I never noticed this before? Fifty-two weeks in the year, fifty-two cards in a deck. Four suits, four seasons. With some imagination I ought to be able to find or invent a correspondence for twelve months (and twelve zodiac signs!). What a great way to lend some weight to the practice of cartomancy.
 
That looks to be a clever game, with plenty of room for variants. But I was struck by the coincidence of cards and calendars. Why have I never noticed this before? Fifty-two weeks in the year, fifty-two cards in a deck. Four suits, four seasons. With some imagination I ought to be able to find or invent a correspondence for twelve months (and twelve zodiac signs!). What a great way to lend some weight to the practice of cartomancy.
🤔 You could use J Q K for the months.
❤️ Spring: March, April, May
♦️Summer: June, July, August,
♣️ Fall: September, October, November
♠️ Winter: December, January, February.

Aces could be first day/equinox...
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
I take into account geography, geopolitics, resources, and access.

Corber Port, the largest metropolis in my primary world, straddles the eastern end of the long narrow channel between an ocean and a sea. It is also the only part of the channel that is bridged. Hence, it receives abundant water and land traffic. This combination resulted in markets where dang near anything is available and a slew of support industries - everything from metal shops to clothiers to carpenters, many of them with dwarven workers. This activity resulted in many members of the aristocracy and mercantile elite building houses in Corber Port. Bonus: Corber Port wasn't originally a human city - instead it was a goblin port set atop a coastal mine. The goblins are still there, accounting for maybe a tenth of the overall population. The mines are now part sewer systems, part catacombs for the dead, and part cold storage, depending on the area.

Cenotaph City, also called Tomb City or the Graveyard of the Plains, is a town on the opposite side of the world from Corber Port, set at the tip of an inlet that protrudes into plains that cover much of the southern hemisphere. These plains, ranging from desert to grasslands to lightly wooded valleys and rugged hills, are roamed by the Hundred Nations, nomads of different races that feud with each other and everybody else. In the past, they have organized themselves into hordes that brought down entire empires. Places like Cenotaph City survive by making themselves useful, either as neutral trading/meeting spots, or something else. In Cenotaph City, that something else is tombs - scores of barrows filled with the fallen heroes of a score of tribes.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
You'd think that someone who writes historical fantasy wouldn't need to invent cities, they can just inherit them. But nope and partially nope,

Full Nope lies with the non-humans. I could have non-human peoples just move into human cities (humans are first, so that would work), and this does happen, but I also wanted to have at least some dwarf towns. And there are elf villages and plenty of gnome communities, and of course orcs live on their own side of the fence. So, lots of inventing there.

The partial nope lies squarely in those inherited cities. Because I can't just take the human cities as historical because magic makes things different. Exactly where and how is actually harder than inventing a town whole cloth.

I do keep an eye on things like economies and social structure and such, but for the most part, I try very hard not to think about any of it until unavoidable. With A Child of Great Promise, for example, my leads spend some time in the city of Arles (southern France). I stay close to Talysse's shoulder as she makes her way through this place. She goes to the amphitheater because that's where the people she's with go. I describe the amphitheater and some action that takes place there, and for this I referenced the real place.

Later, she and her gnome Detta go off on their own, looking for the King of Arles. Of course, they're far too unimportant to speak with a king, so that's a bit of a fool's errand. This wandering is sort of generic: they see buildings and streets and people, and royal guards. They spend their last monies at a tavern, get into and out of some trouble, then take up with an elf chevalier, and so return to the amphitheater for another scene. Some time later, it's flee the city, pursued by the authorities, out through a postern gate by night.

In all this, I don't need to reference political structure (beyond a kingdom) or economic systems or social customs, except where they directly impact the story. Even in my invented cities, I show only what the story needs to show and leave as much as possible undefined. There's a pragmatic reason for this, as well as the idiosyncratic reason, but my posts always go on too long. I need a tl;dw
 
I generally bang my head against my keyboard as I try to come up with a name for the place. Then I figure out what size I roughly want it to be, and what at a minimum I need in there in terms of story. If it's big enough to deserve a spot, then I mark it on my map. Specifics then depend on the location. Is it mountainous / a desert city / on the coast? Old city or new? Any specific images attached to it? that sort of thing....

What a coink-i-dink!
How dare you post such a tempting deal for software I've thought about getting but don't really need right now? *shakes fist*

I might just pick that up. It's a really good deal, and the reviews for CC3 are generally very positive...
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
I generally bang my head against my keyboard as I try to come up with a name for the place. Then I figure out what size I roughly want it to be, and what at a minimum I need in there in terms of story. If it's big enough to deserve a spot, then I mark it on my map. Specifics then depend on the location. Is it mountainous / a desert city / on the coast? Old city or new? Any specific images attached to it? that sort of thing....


How dare you post such a tempting deal for software I've thought about getting but don't really need right now? *shakes fist*

I might just pick that up. It's a really good deal, and the reviews for CC3 are generally very positive...
Do eet. I desperately need City Designer 3 and it's only included in their (mostly) annual bundle every few years. Plus, to just get the one program is $10 more than to get the bundle, and a part of that goes to charity. And in a total power move, this year they have a nice instruction manual in case you're too awesome for pdf's... like me! Also, they update all of their programs frequently, and are just awesome people.
 
As a sci-fi writer, I've had to invent a few alien cities - all different - and my number one rule is this: go light on the detail but what detail there is should be VERY evocative. So people have a clear picture of (say) prevailing architecture or morphological rationale or bizarre customs, but that's as far as I take it. My emphasis is always on the story and the action so I just want them to have a passing sense of a city's weird flavour without distracting from the flow.
 
That looks to be a clever game, with plenty of room for variants. But I was struck by the coincidence of cards and calendars. Why have I never noticed this before? Fifty-two weeks in the year, fifty-two cards in a deck. Four suits, four seasons. With some imagination I ought to be able to find or invent a correspondence for twelve months (and twelve zodiac signs!). What a great way to lend some weight to the practice of cartomancy.
On earth there are 13 lunar months that could correspond to the 13 cards in a suit. Joker could represent the extra leap year day?
 
As to how do I invent cities, I tend to think about how real world cities got there: Trade choke points (like river crossings, oases), natural harbours, easily defended positions. The oldest parts will be around that feature with layout narrow and irregular, becoming more spaced out and organised as planned development subsequently follows. Then there can be remodelling by ambitious leaders (think Parisian boulevards). Industry and waste tend to be downwind of where affluent folks live. Markets in bigger places tend to on the edge, since all the traffic getting into the centre becomes impractical; In smaller places they are a central focal point.

Naming - lots are named for geographical features (Rainy River) or a famous founder (Jacksonville) / early residents (Spanish River). Suffixes like ville (Amityville), ton (Middleton), ham (Birmingham), ley (Headingley), castle (Newcastle), field (Sheffield), which mean village or settlement in various old languages can build up the name.
 

Mad Swede

Auror
As a sci-fi writer, I've had to invent a few alien cities - all different - and my number one rule is this: go light on the detail but what detail there is should be VERY evocative. So people have a clear picture of (say) prevailing architecture or morphological rationale or bizarre customs, but that's as far as I take it. My emphasis is always on the story and the action so I just want them to have a passing sense of a city's weird flavour without distracting from the flow.
I agree totally. Your city, like your setting should be described almost in passing in the story itself, using evocative but brief prose. This does take a bit of practice. As the author you should have a much more detailed picture of your city and your setting, because you need this to ensure that timelines and plot developments (including all those small things like buying food) hang together. That can just be in your head. But I don't feel you should share all the details with the readers, instead you should let them wonder.
 

Queshire

Istar
Hmmm... I generally start with the first impression. One town might only have buildings maybe one or two stories tall, but every one has overflowing gardens & parks built on their rooftops. Another one is built on a series of platforms in the middle of a lake where they use the distance between them & the shore as protection against the enchanted creatures of the surrounding forest. In a more sci-fi setting a "city" might be a converted generation ship that decided to keep wandering instead of settling on the planet they were originally meant to colonize.

After that I generally focus on what everyday life is like for the people living there with a particular focus on how the local magic system affects that everyday life. Not everything will end up making it into the final product, but I like having little things that I can sprinkle in in order to make the world feel lived in.

Third... Hm, perhaps thinking up characters that will serve as the "face" of the location? None of this is hard and fast. It's more just my natural tendency.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
In my own work, I generally try to avoid making cities and villages as the world is supposed to be sparse on those, but they do come up. For the most part I tend to get an image in my head, like what it might look like if you were on a ship approaching, and pick out the key feature as to why it is these. Then i just let it form organically. If the character needs to find something, like a barrel maker, I just give a good guess as to where that would be likely to be and off they go.

Cities are parked on the map though, its the villages that come up more often. I want these to be few and far between, but as the story grows, so do the number of villages. For these, there is typically a reason for them, a traders outpost, a mining community, those who work on the river...something they all kind of do together, and the dwellings are usually no frills and not much in the way of extra buildings. Sometimes i go deeper as to how they might be supplied, what road or river passes by them, but mostly...I try to keep them few and far apart.
 

Mireille

Scribe
I am kind of addicted to graph paper and like to draw a rough map so I can pin important places with a general feel for whatever district they are in. Names, on the other hand, are the bane of my exitance having been blessed with a name that fits fantasy better than reality.
 
Top