1. NeveroddoreveN

    NeveroddoreveN New Member

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    City Creation for High Fantasy

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by NeveroddoreveN, Sep 20, 2020.

    I wanted to start a thread here asking you guys - (high?) fantasy writers - how you plan and map cities. I am talking about anything from a small villa to the capital of a large, prosperous kingdom. How do plan the layout of your city? Do you place certain shops, taverns, weapon smiths, etc in a certain fashion? Do you like having everything like that scattered about or located in neighborhoods? What level of detail do you use? I know that many writers/authors will make districts but not exactly map out the buildings that comprise the city. Do you make intricate character sheets for the citizens? What other details do you think are useful or a necessity with city creation?
     
  2. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Contributor Contributor

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    I start by finding comparable cities in history as those will provide lots of ideas and details. Capital of a powerful land-based empire? Perhaps Constantinople or Chang’an. A maritime state? Venice perhaps. Etc. For one well-realized fantasy city see Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar. To determine where shops and things are placed, you want to first think about geography, economy, class structure, etc.
     
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  3. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    That's a pretty open-ended question! It sounds like you're specifically interested in planning out cities for particular purpose: a D&D campaign, maybe? That process is altogether different from planning a city in a novel.

    If you're looking for an answer beyond "make sure everything your players need is there", you might want to start by imagining what a city is and how it operates. In your high fantasy setting, what's the primary purpose of your city? Is it for defense? Is it for trade? Is it a capital where people flock because resources are readily available and exchangeable for labor? Why does it exist before how it exists.

    For example: a trade city with a river going through it is going to have most of its merchant stuff on the waterway, because transporting goods by boat is easy. So, you might have a market district right there on the water. However, maybe the city has been invaded by boats before, so there's also a barracks on the water, and residential homes are build far away.

    A city, for the most part, is a construction of practicality. And speaking of practicality, it's probably impractical to map out every single building. Have general clumps of similar-functioning buildings in places where they make sense according to the city's function!
     
  4. NeveroddoreveN

    NeveroddoreveN New Member

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    Infel - As per your statement, "It sounds like you're specifically interested in planning out cities for particular purpose: a D&D campaign, maybe? That process is altogether different from planning a city in a novel, this is a high fantasy novel, and it does have ties with D&D - I am an avid gamer, btw! I am trying with everything I have in me to steer away from, "make sure everything your players need is there", rather I am trying to construct a city that is as real as possible, giving my characters as much detail to make them as real as possible. I am the kind of author that puts a ton of detail into my world, everything from crop cycles to medieval agriculture to an entire world for my characters to interact with. So, I will put as much detail into my cities, I wanted to start this thread and see what methods other writers use, maybe I could take some inspiration and/or polish my skills. Infel, you made some very good points in your post here, the city must make sense!!! The whys and hows are, in my eyes, a vital for a well flowing fantasy society.


    You said that it is impractical to map out every building, and I assume it would be true that making a detailed character description would fall under the same scrutiny. I used to write on-the-fly, let the book lead me rather than me leading the book. And that strategy did not work at all. For me, anyway. I discovered that creating as much detail as possible kept me on track, and the story and character’s fell into place. And the inspiration was perpetual. I know it is daunting task and a ton of work, but that is what works for me personally.
     
  5. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    I don't bother. The actual layout of a city is very rarely important in my stories, and when it is, I just sketch a general idea of where the features that are important to the plot are.

    No one needs to know where the tavern your adventurers go is specifically located. It's enough to say it's in the merchant's quarter, or whatever. As to where the merchant's quarter itself is, that, again, is unimportant to the reader unless your plot calls for it to specifically be located somewhere. It's enough to know that there is one.

    I don't believe Pratchett ever really specified where anything was in Ankh-Morpork. I mean, where is the Unseen University, or Vetinari's palace, or the Assassin's Guild in relation to everything else? He doesn't say, because it's not important. Other third parties have drawn maps of the city, but it's never particularly detailed in the books.
     
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  6. badgerjelly

    badgerjelly Contributor Contributor

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    Honestly, I rarely do this unless it’s important to the emersion of the story, but even if it’s not I like to have some vague outline sketched out (because I enjoy it!). First and foremost I focus on the character and general feel of a place by writing about it without constraints.

    Names of districts and such are just icing on the cake. The body of the city doesn’t lie in it’s appearance, it lies in the feelings it musters up for the reader and the images it may tantalisingly provoke.

    Everything holds a narrative. Even individual words.
     
  7. HulkingElf

    HulkingElf Member

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    i will give you my dnd/ dm resource for random city generation. i use this for city's towns that are not the main focus of my story.

    For those towns or Cities that ARE main focus of my story i build them from scratch, including the layout, design, topography, and places they service. (i.e. library, alchemist, blacksmith, weapon enchanter, etc.)

    however there is nothing wrong with hitting the 'generate random city' button on this resource and compile things you like to make your own.

    https://watabou.itch.io/medieval-fantasy-city-generator

    i don't know if posting links is forbidden or not but this is my resource when im planning a dnd game.
     
  8. NeveroddoreveN

    NeveroddoreveN New Member

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    HulkingElf - when you are creating a town or city for your story, do you use any mapping software or character creation software?
     
  9. Lazaares

    Lazaares Contributor Contributor

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    I've got one for all 63.225.000 citizens in my main nation. Google doesn't like the bloat on my drive...

    To turn to the question proper; I have different approaches depending on the size of the settlement. My setting is Napoleonic / early 19th century fantasy, which changes some perspectives on settlement sizes, population density and the likes. This also means my big cities are pretty much "if you are looking for X you will find it" because they are around a million souls each.

    I have one "gargantuan" city; the capital of the main country which is the de-factor capital of the world as well. I handle it as "separate cities" with its districts. I've a full sketch of its underworld, I've a list of important locales/shops/landmarks for each district - and yes, I also have a map sketch for it. I found it important to lay down details because approximately 1/3 of my story is set in this one city, so in turn I thought it deserves 1/3 of my worldbuilding attention too.

    For other cities, I've some notes on landmarks and general layout. Some of them are inspired by real world cities, some are fantastic (I've got one underground city - because every fantasy story needs one). I didn't think I'd need any more details - if I ever will, I'll likely give them the same attention I gave my capital.

    As for the specifics:

    Unless I've got inspiration for something unusual / interesting, I've a list of real life cities I choose from. I live in Europe and have visited over six dozen historical cities; they tend to lend themselves for layout / vista. For example, if I have to put a city next to a river, I will immediately think of London, Heidelberg, Regensburg, Koblenz, Passau, Prague, Paris, Budapest and Vienna. Then I just choose how much I want to split the city between the banks of the river, from a scale of Vienna to Budapest. Similarly, if the city is in a mountanous region, I will think of Prague, Buda, Heidelberg, Durham, Edinburgh, Salzburg, Athens, Freiburg, Graz and Schäßburg.

    Depends on whether the city was planned or not. If not, I just blast them all over the place only minding a sort-of "downtown" vs "suburbs" spread where most upper & middle class locales will be downtown. Don't think I can lend much of an advice for fantasy; I understand the romantic notion of having one blacksmith in town or a single guild - it'd be anachronistic in my world.

    Here I also don't believe in pre-determined neighborhoods unless the city was planned. I try not to think of what must go where, but instead avoid putting locales/shops into neighborhoods where they don't belong. My capital city has a central old-town area with both a university and military academy as well as dozens of noble estates and upper class venues. I will not put a munitions factory or a shipyard in that district.

    I think this here is the most important note I can pass for a prospective city-builder.

    Keep in mind what you will feature from your city, and what is redundant/useless information. People so often forget about urban culture; I can hardly name a world from my head where it's featured prominently. A city will be vastly different to rural areas, there will be local-patriotism for districts, there'll be dialects in the language. There'll be rivalries and crime. There'll be a dedicated cuisine, there'll be famous drinks. There'll be famous entertainers, politicians, outlaws, murderers, craftsmen, men of the cloth, etc.

    Instead of drawing endless maps about houses none of your characters will visit, make sure your city /feels like a city/ and not just a crowded village.
     
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  10. HulkingElf

    HulkingElf Member

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    Most of my NPC's are pretty much random unless they are integral to the plot then they are planed out way beforehand. most of the time its just me deciding on a race name and personality normally i dont think much more than 5 minutes per really minor npc as your not going to know them for much longer than the 'shop visit' so they can just be one or two dimensional characters.

    Now that link i gave you gives me Ideas as i constantly hit the 'generate' button but its really the only software i use to make a city. you can use that link to heavily edit the city that you generate if u want to do it more manually. My integral CITY/TOWNS are typically done by hand from the ground up and i attempt to recreate it using the generator for my dnd games. however in a book unless your going to be adding a map into you book you just need a basic layout, important landmarks, and architecture style.

    but thats about it when it comes to tools, i sometimes will hit up a town NAME generator too if im feeling really desperate but i normally not that bad off
     
  11. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    I almost never spend time on details that the readers will never see. That effort is better spent on writing the story.
     
  12. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    This is why I'm moving out of writing High Fantasy. I just honestly couldn't care less about details like these, but it's obviously resulted in a very thin world that lacks depth and consistency (not just because of a lack of city planning, but just world-building in general). I love describing the stuff and imagining the settings, but I just have very little interest in actually coming up with real systems and such.
     
  13. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    i draw maps for my fantasy's which are important to the plot... e.g to make sure that i remember that Darceberg is to the east of Tjardsberg and that its three days march from imperium to kanfeld... that kind of thing

    i don't faff about locating anything thats not plot important.. e.g the only reason i know that theres a butchers midden between the forum and the canal is that Marius hides there while being pursued by praetorians... i don't know what other businesses are in the street with the butcher because i don't care and neither will my eventual readers
     
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