When you plan for your adventurers to be in town a while it can be very beneficial to flesh out the different parts of the city to give it a bit of character. To show you how I go about doing this I’ll be using my home-brew city of Little Drake as an example.
I’m not going to do a deep dive of lore, but there are a few things about the city that make it distinct and are relevant to the cities development. Little Drake is a city on a tropical island that serves as a shield to the various inhabitants of Shield Bay. The rich deposits of precious gems, silver, exotic spices, and animals have made the bay a target of pirates for centuries, but recently governess Nala has gained the service of a talented smith who is skilled in the art of crafting firearms and cannons. Nala put the smith to work casting cannon after cannon until it became foolhardy to attempt a raid on the bay. The sudden stability of the city has enticed many of the tribes that live in the jungle to abandon their old way of life to seek refuge in the city, causing a population boom.
First Step: Major Sections
The first step in fleshing out your city is notating any obvious sections. For Little Drake there were 3: Old Town, the Docks, and the New District. Old Town is the original dragonborn and gnomish settlement before the population boom. It has old stonework walls and the architecture was more European appearance with slanted roofs and an abundant use of iron. The Docks make up the entire shoreline and is often the first thing visitors see when visiting the city. Finally, the New District which is a quickly built section of town to house the sudden influx of various tribesmen from the bush. The buildings are clay and have a more organic appearance.
The major sections don’t have to be named anything fancy to begin with, you can give it a clever name after you’ve fleshed everything out, but it is a good to have an idea of the different parts you want to mess with.
Second Step: Build the District in each Section
In the second step you take a section and break it up into at least 3 districts. I generally have at least one residential, one labor, and one random one that I try to make interesting. It’s also a good idea to write a quick sentence about what makes it interesting or relevant. Unlike the Major Section it is a good idea to come up with a solid name for each district to make sure it distinct from the others.
For Little Drake Old Town I decided on:
Cliffside. The wealthy housing district where the families have large estates. Governess Nala has the city’s government building here.
Brightmarket. A large flea market that rests in the shadow of Little Drake’s Lighthouse.
Ironsides. Where Nala’s iconic smith makes his cannons. This district is filled with blue collared workers who maintain the iron works and smithies.
Uptown. This district is where the lawyers, notaries, and other white collared workers keep their offices. It is also where high end entertainment establishments are.
I also decided that Old Town was a good enough name for this section since it adequately describes the geographic location of these districts.
For the Docks I decided:
Boardwalk. This stretch of shops is filled with a wide range of entertainment and novelty attractions.
Warf. The shipyard and warehouse district.
Stacks. I liked the idea that there was such an influx of new residence that many of new residence were stuck living in temporary structures permanently. The stacks are the cheapest ‘housing’ available.
This section can simply remain the Docks as well. It conveys that these districts are on the shoreline well enough for my liking.
For the New District I decided:
Bayview. Modest housing with a view of shield bay.
Hive. A spiraling cluster of buildings that works as a hub for the various tribal crafters.
Kennels. This is a place where the dinosaurs Little Drake are raised and kept.
Maze. I like that during the early construction during the expansion was clunky and slow. The tribes grew tired of their pace and just built over the half constructed architecture to build their home resulting in an unintuitive maze of mismatched homes next to dead end streets.
I decided to change the name of New District to Clan Bake since the houses are literally baked clay, and its filled with different clans! . . . I think I’m funny. . .
Third Step: Attractions
The last step of fleshing out your city is by putting at least one interesting thing in each district. It could be an important NPC, a tavern, or anything else really. Here is what I put in each of my districts.
Cliffside. Leadhall is where Governess Nala conducts government business and 4 of her cannons.
Brightmarket. The turtle merchant Brock can regularly be seen here selling his elixirs in gourds. It also is filled with strange beasts caught in the jungle to be sold as food or as exotic pets.
Ironsides. The Beholder’s Hole is a bar filled with blue collared workers who hate the influx of cheap labor in Little Drake. Gorell’s Guns is the shop that makes all of Nala’s cannons.
Uptown. The Gilded Cannon is the ritziest tavern in Little Drake. It attracts performers from all over the world and is often packed to the gills.
Boardwalk. The Cold Brew is run cheap bar that is attached to one of the store houses. William Finn is a white dragonborn that runs the establishment and is the city’s primary fence of stolen goods. Caitlyn’s Curiosities has a great spot on the boardwalk and is hard to miss thanks to its unusual architecture. She uses illusions and misinformation to mystify travelers who visit Little Drake.
Warf. The Sunbellow ship yard make all of Nala’s ships and are tasked with the repairs of traveling vessels.
Stacks. This is cheapside. There are a lot of desperate people here for unpleasant NPCs to take advantage of.
Bayview. Glistening Mist is often the most lavish luxury the people of Little Drake can afford. Lesedi runs an effective thieves guild here and uses the smokehouse as a way to clean her money and glean useful information. ((See Glistening Mist )).
Hive. A clan of goblins have taken up residence here selling their spider silk fabric and clothes. The Moonweaver clan also has a secret order of monk/assassins who are charged with keeping the peace. They remove anyone they consider a threat to the city’s safety including some government officials and priests.
Kennels. Gregor runs a fight pit here that gambles on any kind of blood sport. The amount of poverty in Little Drake has attracted many desperate people to the kennels to try their luck at some coin.
Maze. This is the most crime ridden district due to how easy it is to rob someone and escape in the maze.
I hope you found my process of fleshing out larger cities interesting. I wouldn’t recommend this for cities your heroes are just passing through, but it can be very beneficial to you if your players are spending a lot of time in a specific town. Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions or want me to cover a different topic just let me know 🙂