Home is where the heart is, but for many fantasy games, it’s where the loot is stored. Coming back to town is an important part of many games’ play cycles but Dungeon Masters often struggle to make settlements as interesting as the dungeons located nearby. Nord Games aims to correct all that with Spectacular Settlements, a meaty 450+ page tome devoted to help create quirky neighbors, flavorful neighborhoods and intrigues that only your players can navigate. They sent along a review copy so that I could see just how many towns where someplace everyone could know your name.
The majority of the book is made up of random inspiration tables for settlements of various sizes. The book categorizes them as trading posts, villages, towns, cities, capitals and fortresses. Each section has a series of tables that are to be rolled in order to give Dungeon Masters a series of short prompts to help flesh out the settlement. The prompts are just useful enough that any Dungeon Master should be able to plug them together for an interesting location or two.
The tables are broken up into for broad categories. First, the basic history of the town is created with info on how long it's been around, what condition it is in and any events in recent history that might be lingering issues for the heroes to solve. Then the community is determined. Are they friendly with outsiders? Do they give travelers surly looks? Places of interest flesh out important locations within the town like taverns, temples and the other places that players are usually drawn to be. Finally, Dungeon Masters have intrigues to add for flavor, like local superstitions or political rumors that go beyond the nuts and bolts of creating a town.
Often, roll results influence results later on a different table. A town without a sheriff is more likely to have a crime problem, after all. But it’s not a certainty and, in some cases, there are rolls that don’t seem to make logical sense. The natural assumption would be to reroll on the chart until something comes together, but author Andrew Geertsen encourages Dungeon Masters to go the other way. Come up with an interesting reason why the conflicting rolls appear to be true. Maybe that run down town with that lavish temple is because the local priests are starving the locals by claiming their god will abandon the town if every scrap of gold isn’t given up on the altar. Maybe the temple is there because the god remembers that location fondly and asks the party’s cleric to help rebuild the town around it. Inconsistencies are story opportunities that not only make a settlement unique but create plot for the Dungeon Master within the boundaries of civilization.
In addition to the charts and story prompts each chapter comes with 8 settlements per type that are made to be dropped into any campaign world with a minimum of muss and fuss. These settlements run the gamut and include flavorful illustrations and maps but more importantly, they contain the recipe. Each was generated by a different author running through the charts. Looking at how the prompts come together is an excellent way for the book to teach Dungeon Masters how to use these tools by doing it themselves. They also provide hints for DMs who might be stuck on a particular prompt on how they can move forward with the development of a place.
The book rounds out with more broadly applicable tables like encounters and rumors that can be found in each settlement. The last set of tables broadens out to prompts that can connect to more personal experiences with players. Why does the financial district smell like fish? Why does the cathedral glass feel slick to the touch?
Books like Spectacular Settlements tend to lean one of two ways; they either want to provide a writing prompt generator to kickstart my imagination or they want to provide pre-made locations that I can drop into my campaign world on those nights when it’s an hour before the game starts and I’m still blanking on ideas. The charts for each level of settlement are fun to roll on, combining in interesting ways when they work together and firing up the creative juices to explain those moments when they don’t. The pre-made settlements are fine, but I really appreciated how they listed the rolls that inspired the author. It felt like looking at the ingredients of a recipe but it also encouraged me to go a different way than the authors did based on the list.
Spectacular Settlements is an excellent choice for Dungeon Masters looking to spice up the exploration part of fantasy games by providing tools to create places to go that are just as interesting as the dungeons and adventure to be found in the wild.