Construct a thriving city for your D&D game

Construct a thriving city for your D&D game

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Cities in Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) generally fit into one of two categories. Forgettable backdrops or integral part of the Dungeon Master’s campaign. I will give you tips and tricks for creating a city that could become an integral part of your campaign if that is what you want. Otherwise, you will get some quick generators to use to create a fast backdrop for one or two game sessions.

Construct a thriving city for your D&D game

Introduction: Creating a thriving city for your D&D game

To create a thriving city you need to know some basic things about that city:

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Different city classifications and their population size

Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 version had numerous resources for how to create your own towns.

City TypeSize
Thorp20 – 80
Hamlet81 – 400
Village401 – 900
Small town901 – 2,000
Large town2,001 – 5,000
Small city5,001 – 12,000
Large city12,001 – 25,000

City generators (free)

You can find four great free resources to generate a D&D 3.5 type of town for your current D&D and Pathfinder game (or any fantasy RPG).

The first is donjon’s Medieval Demographics Calculator. This will give you plenty of shop ideas as will my table below.

The second is donjon’s Demographics Calculator. This will give you the ability to change the population of a town and get a detailed list of D&D 3.5 class and level. If you are playing D&D 5 match the Warlock class to Sorcerer for numbers and you should be fine.

donjon class demographics broken down by level (note D&D 3.5 classes used)
donjon class demographics broken down by level (note D&D 3.5 classes used)

The third is donjon’s Fantasy Town Generator. This will give you a quick map of the city which can be detailed out using a system like Canva for free.

The fourth is from Kassoon’s Town Generator. This will give you many of the demographics from donjon but also generates shops with NPC’s and special pricing for some objects that could be of use for you and your players.

From these four generators you should have a really good idea of a name, basic town layout and population.

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Racial mix in your city for your D&D game

You can choose in the donjon’s Medieval Demographics Calculator the racial make up of the city. You can have a predominately isolated racial city (a Dwarven mine or Elven seat of power) or a very integrated racial city (port or trade town).

If you know what you want then just create a list of the different races and put in a percentage for each. This isn’t necessarily needed frankly. Just having a good idea about whether or not the town is mixed or mostly only one race is enough. Especially if any of the characters will get bonuses (+2) or penalties (-2) for their race when trying to interact with the people there. This would be more common in smaller towns to a thorp.

Core NPC roles in your city for your D&D game

You will need a handful of roles no matter how big the city is. For any NPC’s that the players may interact with in an impactful way have their name, class, race, level and role figured out. You may also need other stats as well. I try to not build out an NPC fully unless they will be used repeatedly or are secretly the big bad evil guy or gal. So who may you need at least some basic info on?

I would have a mayor or council leader, sheriff, and any shop keepers at a bare minimum and anyone else that players may interact with in smaller cities. In larger cities I would have a guard or two and any shop keepers. The chances of your players interacting with the head of a metropolis are probably slim, so 95% of the time you may not need any info on the leaders at all.

In larger cities you will have Temple leaders, guild members, and others that the players could interact with if you want to have more interactions with your players. But what if you want to have a handful of NPC’s that your players interact with a lot?

With anyone that the players will interact with a lot (especially if combat is a possibility) you will want to have an NPC name, class, race and level. Then any required skills or other stats as needed. For combat you would need HP / AC / Initiative and weapons or spells. For friendly NPCs you may only need one or two skill bonuses for example that could be used to help the players.

magic shop showing items in the city for your D&D game

Determining max wealth for a single sale of an item

One of my biggest issues in D&D 5e is that there aren’t any prices in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for magical items. I enjoyed shopping in D&D 3.5. I wouldn’t say enjoyed, I looked forward to it. Can I finally afford 2,000 GP to magic my masterwork weapon? Can I finally afford that ring of feather fall because I don’t trust the dungeon master to not throw me off a cliff (he knows why…)?

Regardless, it is good to know what type of items your players could purchase from a city or town. A small village of less than a 100 people wouldn’t have access to a major magic item, but a metropolis may have that item on hand or could be created in a week or less.

It is a good idea to know what sort of magical and non-magical items the town may have on hand. This is especially needed if one of your players wants an item and you can then know if that town could potentially have the item. You could handle this in several different ways.

If the city is large enough the item could just be available.

The item could be available at a discount if the players did a side job first.

The item could be available in X number of days or weeks and half down is required to start the work.

The item may be in this town. Roll a d100 or have them roll it and decide what the percent chance would be that it could be there and let them know that if they roll a 75 or higher they can find it. If they roll a 50 or higher than can find someone to make the item if they want to wait 2d6+4 days (for example, make up your own numbers given the size of the town).

The item isn’t available as the town is too small to support an item of that quality / power / uniqueness.

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Common stores listed by frequency

Here is a list of potential stores listed by what could be found in towns by different sizes. Note that all larger towns will include everything in the smaller towns and as the size of the town gets larger they would include multiple stores found in smaller towns. Think of it this way. A small modern town might have food / gas and maybe a post office. A larger city with over a million people would have 20 places to eat / 5 gas stations and maybe 2 post offices within a 2 mile radius. In even more populated cities you could have 20 places to eat in two city blocks.

City TypeAdventurer Shop IdeasShop Number
ThorpFarmer’s market / Blacksmith (non masterwork / Armorer) / Tailor0 – 2
HamletBlacksmith (masterwork / Armorer) / Tavern / Inn (2 – 4 beds) / Weaponsmith (masterwork / all non-specialized weapons)2 – 5
VillageTaverns / Inns (5 – 10 beds each) / Alchemist / Mage (ability to imbue weapons with magic) / Temple (ability to purchase healing, not raise dead)5 – 10
Small townTaverns / Inns (5 – 20 beds each) / Temples to 2 – 5 deities (20% chance a cleric could raise the dead) / Magic shops (specialized for several different schools of magic and some +1 magic items on Dungeon Master discretion) / Private library of noble or mage10 – 30
Large townTemples to 5 – 10 deities (one may be the biggest temple to that deity in the country / 40% chance a cleric could raise the dead) / Magic shops (could purchase any +1 magic item and some +2 on Dungeon Master discretion)30 – 50
Small city60% chance to find a cleric to raise the dead / +2 magic items available (+3 available with DM discretion)50 – 200
Large city80% chance to find a cleric to raise the dead / +3 magic items available (+4 available with DM discretion)200 – 500
Metropolis100% chance to find a cleric to raise the dead / +4 magic items available (+5 available with DM discretion)500 – 1000+

Other shop ideas

Here are other ideas for the numerous shops you could have in your small towns to metropolis cities:

  • Inn / Tavern – I wanted to provide you another donjon Random Inn and Tavern Generator that is very helpful.
  • Silver/Gold smith [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Pewter smith [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Coopers (barrels and pails) [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Tinker (mends pots pans and the like)
  • Weaver [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Tailors [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Market for food items (vendors are regional dependent)
  • Cobbler [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Masons [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Carpenters [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Wood Carver [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Leather workers [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Tannery (makes leather, would be well out side town as this is a VERY bad smelling trade) [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Spinners (thread and yarn)
  • Mill works (wood / grain / flour)
  • Brewer [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Distillery (in reality distilled spirits are not period but its your world)
  • Livery (live stock)
  • Fletcher (makes arrows) [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Bakery (primarily bread) [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Butcher [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Candle Maker [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Glass Blower (very expensive, probably only in extremely large cities) [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Shipwright (obviously you would need a port) [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Potter [skilled would have apprentices]
  • Kiln Operator
  • Charcoal Maker

Most of the above list came from this Reddit post on shops and services the city for your D&D game.

magic shop showing items in the city for your D&D game

Active guilds / factions for the city for your D&D game

Obviously, the bigger the town the more chance for different guilds / factions / religious sects / cults and any other divisions you could think of can occur.

You would want to note any major internal groups and the conflicts they could have with each other that your players may be pulled into. Here are a couple of examples of what you could do.

Does the smith’s guild need to retrieve an item back that was stolen from them and is prominently displayed in the rogue’s guild hall?

Your players could be approached by the 3rd in charge of the local temple. She suspects that the head of the order is secretly [insert anything counter to the order and could be embezzlement or something incredibly evil like human sacrifice] and wants the players to investigate. In the investigation they could encounter a cult inside of the temple and two or more factions that are working inside the temple to vie for control.

So what guilds and factions could you create in your game even if just for a fun side quest? If you want more information on how to create guild in your D&D game go here.

Any notable locations in the city for your D&D game

This is probably one of the reasons why your players came to this city to begin with. The bigger the city the more notable locations you could have. For thorps and villages the notable location may be a cave outside of the city. That said here are some examples to give you some ideas of what you could incorporate into your next city:

Is there a great library here with arcane knowledge or ancient history that your players need to complete a quest? How will they get into one of the most guarded libraries in the world?

Did this small city develop around a dungeon that leads to the Underdark? If you don’t know the Underdark is where the Drow, Duergar and other denizens that have never seen the sun live.

A mage tower just appeared outside of town 3 weeks ago. Since then people have been going missing but then reappearing days later with no memory of what happened to them.

There is a haunted building at the edge of town. Recently, two children were last seen going near the building and others reported that they were dared to go into the building. That was 4 days ago. The local guards went and investigated the home but couldn’t find any trace of the children. Now the parents have found the players in the local tavern and approached them asking for help.

The above were just some examples of a myriad of notable locations you could use for a side quest or two or an entire campaign in the case of the Underdark idea.

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To create a believable and thriving city in your D&D campaign you need a name, population, racial mix, NPC info, shops, any active guilds, factions, etc., and locations the players can explore. In this article we covered how much of an NPC should you build out and what types of shops, factions and locations you could create for your town based on the size of the town. If you have any comments or things to add – please let me know below.

Happy gaming,

Dwight Scull

About the Author:

Dwight Scull has been playing tabletop role-playing games (starting with Dungeons and Dragons 3.5) back in 2001. He started being a dungeon master around 2005.

He loves to play many different types of TTRPGs, including Pathfinder, GURPS, Shadowrun, Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage: The Ascension (and other White Wolf Games), Nights Black Agents, and others.

Fan of mysteries, light horror, co-op board games, true crime, sci-fi, and fantasy.

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