How to Design a Village in 5 Easy Steps

Most GMs, at some point in their illustrious careers, will have to design a village. What at first appears to be a ridiculously easy task will, on closer inspection, turn out to ‘be’ a ridiculously easy task. In case you’re designing your village at 2 a.m. and can’t think straight, there’s always this handy guide to help you remember if you missed something.

0. Reason for Existing

Thanks to @Hand of Evil for this fine idea.

First off, it would make great sense to figure out why someone would build a village here in the first place. Is it at a location of rich natural abundance? Is it near good farmland? Is there a mine or other interesting locale around?

Most villages aren't just built somewhere for no reason. Even if the reason is just that the village is along a trade route or houses the families of the men who man the wall. The reason the village exists can even help you to figure out a name for the village.

1. Name the Village


The most important part of creating a village is the name. If you’re too lazy to bother with naming the village, then you might as well do what the rest of us GMs do and just make everything up as you go along. If you have the skill to do this, you most definitely don’t need this article in the least. You can probably only use it as some mild amusement as to the crazy antics that lesser GMs get up to. “Ha, the guy needs a whole guide just to create one simple village? I can do that in ten seconds. It’s a village and it’s got a pub. There, took me two seconds.”

The first problem you’re run into when creating a name for a village is that your handy name generator just gives you character names and it would be really weird if the village were named “Bilbo” or “Bobby McGuire.” If you’re particularly creative, you might take the time to actually write down a secret page of village/location names. Then all you have to do is pick and choose or roll your dice. Rolling your dice is probably the better option as it will scare the pants off the players.

Regardless, you’ll still have to come up with some good village names sooner or later. If you actually coordinate the village names in your kingdoms, then you’re way ahead of the game. So far ahead, in fact, that the players probably won’t even notice your effort. No, what we’re aiming for here is a name that won’t immediately be ridiculed such as “Dell, Cheerios, or Hamburger.”

Designing this interesting, unique, and yet not-too-complicated name will require some effort. Probably about 5 seconds worth, actually. Try to think up something random sounding and vaguely foreign. Then try to pronounce it properly under your breath and see if it sounds completely ludicrous or inappropriate. If it passes this test, you have your village name.

Good village names: Castle-bar, Clover-down, Ixtiwickthick-o.

Bad village names: Jonathan, Nike, Free75, Google.

2. Determine the Location of the Village

The second most important thing is to figure out exactly where the village is in relation to everything else. The best way to do this is to create a map of the campaign. This is a single blank piece of paper. On this map, create a small dot or something better if you’re feeling artistic. I can usually handle a tiny picture of a house which looks like what an 8-year-old would draw in techni-color with crayons. In the map legend, or directly under this icon, place the name of the village in some kind of legible way. If you scrawl it too tiny, the village name might change all the time.

If you don’t have a map, or you don’t have time to add the village to the map, just use vagueness as your friend. “The village is somewhere to the east of the center of the world. That’s all you know.” Unless the party has complex magic or mapping tools at their disposal, you should be able to get away with this. After all, Google Maps hasn’t been invented yet, right? One more reason fantasy campaigns can be easier to run than sci-fi ones. However, “You’re lost in space,” is a great line, too.

Using vagueness, you can then later fill in an arbitrary location for the village when it suits you. Also, you can subtly reposition it to strand the party in the middle of an inescapable desert.

3. Points of Interest

Good villages will have at least one point of interest, and some will have several or more. Sometimes you can create an interesting village with no particular points of interest. Especially if you don’t want the party to waste 3 hours shopping around and talking to locales when they could be getting eaten by a bear in the wilderness or falling down deep pits in the dungeon.

Points of interest can be just about anything. So long as they’re interesting—they qualify. Usually, these points of interest are static locations, but they can also move around or be hidden. A thieves’ guild, a town hall, a local pub, a smithy, a stable, a general store, a healing temple, a wizard’s tower, a fortification, and more can all be points of interest. These locations all share one thing in common: they are places the players will be drawn to at some point. These are the places in the village where things happen. Even a haunted farm can be a point of interest.

Good points of interest often have a benefit to the players. If it’s where the power is, the players will want to discuss things with the village leaders. This could be missions, pay, problems, pleas, or anything else the players want to get done.

A guard-station would be a source of aid to the players, or where they end up repeatedly for breaking the law. A healing temple would be frequented for obvious reasons. Magical aid is in high demand, so any kind of wizard’s academy or tower will be a point of interest. Shops and markets also make good points of interest because the players need to buy supplies and equipment. If there’s some place the players can compete in challenges or tournaments, this would also be a good point of interest.

You can even create more specialized points of interest with a little work. It could be that all major deals go down behind a certain bakery. Maybe the thieves control the town from the basements the town was built on. Perhaps a local monster holds the village elders under its power and lives in a pile of pig defecation. Your options are practically limitless. Just remember to make sure the point of interest has something of value to the players in it. Otherwise, they might never discover your cool creation, or might ignore it completely.

4. Key People


Very similar to points of interest, there can also be several key people in the village. These people will either hold a lot of power, be interesting personalities, or hold some agenda influencing the adventure.

Some examples of key people are: the mayor, the local baron, the guard captain, the wizard, the high priest, the witch, the merchant, or anyone else the players will have reason to deal with. Obviously, anyone who holds a great deal of power or a high position could potentially be of great interest to the players. The local judge might be physically and mentally weak, but if he controls the law of the land he can be a very important person to know.

Some people might not hold any power, influence, or goods—but could still be of great interest to the players. A mad hermit, a village fool, a beggar, a crazy man, a funny farmer, a wandering minstrel, or a lost knight. All of these people could be great NPCs.

On occasion you won’t have key people written up for your village. Other times, the players might gravitate towards someone you hadn’t planned to be special. Don’t let that stop you. Create a name and quick personality for that key person and develop him or her. The barkeeper could suddenly become a very important person to the players, as could a random peasant, or a little girl. Provided they want to role-play with this character, many bit characters can quickly gain much larger parts. Some players are also fond of recruiting NPCs even if those NPCs don’t seem to have any special skills or abilities to begin with. It’s up to the GM to further develop those characters.

5. Adventure

A good village also has several locations which might be the basis for adventures or interesting encounters. Not every village need be filled with intrigues and monsters, but some can certainly make for great adventures. Always remember that you don’t need to confine your adventures only to the dungeons and the wilderness. The amount of adventure you can pack into a small village is only limited by your creativity and imagination.

Sometimes the players just want to rest and heal in the village. That’s okay. You don’t need to have the inn constantly attacked by savage monsters.

It’s a good policy to know where the local dungeons are situated, strange magical wastelands, haunted forests, and so forth. You don’t have to have every landmark filled with monsters, but merely hinting at supposedly haunted castles will quickly put the players on edge.

5 ½. Add Your Own Elements


Any good village has a few elements all its own. You can’t really fill all your villages with key people and points of interest and then hope the players will enjoy them. Villages are part of living and breathing worlds. They trade with other villages, supply cities, support castles, and are a place to live. The locals will have opinions on the government and what’s happening in the world. Some people might have heard of the player’s characters, others might not. Always try to include a special element in your best villages.

What are your favorite elements from villages in your campaigns? Are there any especially memorable locales? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

 

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Argyle King

Legend
Interesting. I'll give it a shot. I'm curious what I can come up with on the with your article as a guide and trying to quickly wing something, so here we go.

1. Name the village.

I'm going to try taking some of the unsuitable words you listed and see if I can turn them into something usable. Sometimes, when I'm winging it, a quick glance at a drink somebody has or a poster behind one of the players can provide some syllables to inspire. Cheerios, Hamburger, Dell... Hamdell or Dellham seem mostly ok, but perhaps a little plain. I watched The Hobbit recently, so the desire to work "shire" in there somewhere hit me. Dellhamshire sounds pretty good. The 'h' is partially silent.

Sometimes, a word by itself might not be suitable, but parts of that word added to something else might be. Language tends to have patterns of sounds and syllables which we recognize, and sometimes taking those common sounds and given them a different order can result in something familiar enough to be easily accepted by the mind, but made just exotic enough to mask that you pulled a name from a player's bag of chips or from a popular game. If you have more time to prepare, you might even go to one of the free language translators online and pick out some common letter patterns from other languages to sprinkle into the names of your world.


2. Determine the location of the village

I want Dellhamshire to have some life to it, but I'll try to settle on something simple and quick.

Dellhamshire is a small village nestled among a set of rolling hills. For as far as the eye can see to the east and west, there are flat plains and grasslands. Several days to the North are jagged and harsh looking mountains. Roughly a day's journey South from Dellhamshire is the Cheery Coast and the city of Hamdellton.


3. Points of Interest


Overall, Dellhamshire is a quiet rural community without many of the amenities found in larger settlements. However, it is the nevertheless important to the region. The largely flat land to the east and west is among the most fertile in the region, and grain from here is exported to larger cities for food. There is also a unique breed of indigo wool sheep bred by one of the local the farmers. While Dellhamshire may not have the wide variety of resources that a larger settlement might, travellers can easily find Grundy's Bistro, the Wet Thistle Inn, and a blacksmith at the center of town. There is also a humble stone tower scarcely two stories high which serves as a makeshift government or military building on the rare occasions when it is needed.


4. Key People

Solomon Wyse
A local farmer who breeds a unique type of indigo wool sheep. He breaks a lot of the stereotypes typically associated with a farmer in a small town. Easily one of the wealthiest men in Dellhamshire, he is always dressed in fine clothing. He owns a large plot of land on the Northern edge of town and maintains a small private security force.

Denneris Grundy
A large powerfully built man with a seemingly constant five o'clock shadow who can appear rather menacing in spite of being armed with nothing more than a frying pan and a ladle in most cases. The owner of Grundy's Bistro, he's well known among the other residents for his straight forward approach to solving problems when asked for advice and for experimenting with a variety of soups and lightly pan-toasted sandwiches.

Gwendis Albright
The owner of the Wet Thistle Inn; Gwendis is a tall and lanky woman with rather plain facial features and straw-colored hair. She's naturally suspicious of travellers and is prone to gossip about the people who stay at her inn. The inn itself is a simple building which seems to be scarcely a step up from sleeping in they hay of a stable. The common area has only a large fireplace and a desk at which Gwendis is usually seated. Each of the available four rooms has only pile of furs to sleep upon.

Sergeant Jamison Yoder
A military veteran, Sergeant Jamison Yoder was recently "promoted" to the position of constable in Dellhamshire. He is tasked with ensuring that Dellhamshire remains secure due to the importance of the food the village produces for the rest of the region. He tends to be dismissive of the importance of his position, and he views it as a punishment to be stuck in a small town without any promise of "doing anything great" with his career. He's evasive with his answers when asked why he would have been punished. He is a wiry man of no great stature, but his small and thin frame is obviously solid as well; he is muscled in such a way to remind you of perhaps an ever so slightly too thin jungle cat. He has a handful of new recruits who were sent here to aid him after reports of increased goblin sightings made their way to Duke Hamdell of Hamdellton. Sergeant Yoder has yet to see a goblin or much of anything interesting at all during his tenure here and is more than willing to express such to anyone who will listen.

Also of note is the current absense of a blacksmith. While there is a forge, there is currently no smith in town. The previous smith recently died, and a professional replacement has not yet been found. In a pinch, a few of the local farmers can complete simple tasks such as making horseshoes or simple farm implements, but the quality of the work tends to be poor.


5. Adventures

I'm at a bit of a loss here. Based on some of the personalities and details I came up with, I have a few vague ideas, but nothing solid at the moment. If anyone else has an idea, feel free to share and/or use what I have here as the basis for something else.
 

delericho

Legend
Interesting article, but I would reverse #1 and #2. An awful lot of places are named for their location and/or some key local feature - Rivendell probably being the classic example.
 

Hand of Evil

Hero
Epic
I would add; Reason for Being. Why is the village there? What is the chief means of income for the village? This can be things like the only river crossing, logging, mining, support for a fort, cross road, farming, live stock, shrine, location of an event, etc.
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
1. Name the village.

I'm going to try taking some of the unsuitable words you listed and see if I can turn them into something usable. Sometimes, when I'm winging it, a quick glance at a drink somebody has or a poster behind one of the players can provide some syllables to inspire. Cheerios, Hamburger, Dell... Hamdell or Dellham seem mostly ok, but perhaps a little plain. I watched The Hobbit recently, so the desire to work "shire" in there somewhere hit me. Dellhamshire sounds pretty good. The 'h' is partially silent.

Not that it matters in the slightest, but as a point of interest, "shire" means "county"; it wouldn't be on the end of a village name. But that shouldn't stop you using whatever name sounds good to you! :)

Also related to this article, I made an English-style town name generator a while back. Folks might find it useful:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/dnd_view_block.php?id=240
 

Argyle King

Legend
Not that it matters in the slightest, but as a point of interest, "shire" means "county"; it wouldn't be on the end of a village name. But that shouldn't stop you using whatever name sounds good to you! :)

Also related to this article, I made an English-style town name generator a while back. Folks might find it useful:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/dnd_view_block.php?id=240


Well, yeah, but a lot of the farming doesn't take place in what would be considered the village/town. As such, the name also refers to the general area around the settlement where crops are grown. Over time, the name has come to commonly be used to reference the actual settlement where the shops and such reside even though that's not technically correct. It's one of the oddities of how the local language has evolved. :)
 

Jhaelen

First Post
I would add; Reason for Being. Why is the village there? What is the chief means of income for the village? This can be things like the only river crossing, logging, mining, support for a fort, cross road, farming, live stock, shrine, location of an event, etc.
This! I think this is actually the first question you should answer. It directly leads you to the answer to the question where to locate it. It will also give you an idea for a good name. The rest is fleshing out, i.e. deciding on interesting features and inhabitants.
 


For names, I find it helps for have lived in places with English-origin place names and just name things plainly. In my case, that was New York, New England, actual England, and Washington State.

To me, a lot of good place names are actually DESCRIPTIVE and tell you something about the place right from the name. Whether the name comes first or the "reason for being" doesn't much matter, but both being related helps a lot.

Examples:

From New York:
-- Pound Ridge (my hometown) -- it's a hilly, wooded place, where animals were kept
-- Indian Hill -- a hill with an Indian burial ground at the base
-- Hardscrabble Road -- you can tell this was not good farm country
-- Leatherman's Cave -- a cave where an itinerant leatherworker camped when in town
-- Breakneck Ridge
-- Bear Mountain
-- Salt Point (where the Hudson changes from a salt water fjord-like inlet to fresh water river valley)
-- West Point -- a steep river bluff above the Hudson

From merry old England:
-- Oxford -- a town at major river crossing (on the Thames)
-- Cambridge -- a town at a bridge over the Cam river
-- Stamford -- you get the idea
-- Downton Abbey (fictional) -- a former abbey, no doubt destroyed by Henry VIII, near a village (ton) a Down (heathland)

From Washington State:
-- Friday Harbor -- a port town named after a native Hawaiian sailor who settled there, Either his name was translated from Hawaiian, or more likely he was nicknamed Friday, after the character in Robin Crusoe (published a century before he was born)
-- Useless Bay -- a bay that's too shallow and exposed to the wind to be a good roadstead
-- Deception Pass -- an inlet between rocky islands that's dangerous because of the swift currents
-- Port Townsend -- a town at the end of a peninsula (actually named after a person)
-- Startup -- a town on the road leading up to a mountain pass
-- Index -- a town on the same road, near Mount Index, a mountain that looks like an index finger stuck up
 
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