When you are deciding which city to develop, I personally would suggest picking the one where your story starts. If your story starts in a village or town, by all means choose that instead. Or you may find it easiest to pick a small area, comprising of a city and surrounding towns or suburbs. Either way, the effect is that of placing a magnifying glass over your map, and choosing a small part to focus on.
Let’s go back and look at the map I created for my fantasy country:
In my country, I intend to have one major city, which is represented by the sketch building at the base of the mountains. I have decided that I want to start my story with characters who live in this city, so now I want to get an idea of what my city looks like.
We want to get specific now, so this is the stage where you may find you need inspiration. My favourite place for inspiration is Pinterest. There are myriad numbers of pictures of all kinds to browse and get ideas from. I’m not suggesting that you copy ideas from pictures you see, merely that browsing a selection of images may stimulate your own imagination. I would recommend starting your own Pinterest boards and if you have five minutes of downtime, browse and repin a few things.
I have a general fantasy setting board on Pinterest, and a specific one related to worldbuilding inspiration, which I will add to as I continue this series. At the moment my worldbuilding inspiration board has pictures of cities pinned. I specifically picked cities that are placed in or at the base of mountains, perhaps near a forest, as my map indicates, to get ideas for my particular scenario. I’ve also browsed for ideas of medieval cities, too, as that is my chosen fantasy style, and included those.
Things to consider for your main city (or town):
The following is a list of ideas to use to stimulate the creation of your city. You don’t have to answer all the questions. Use them as thinking points.
Rulers: Is your city ruled by a king or a prime minister? Where does the ruler live? In a big palace or castle? Is there a large royal family? Do you need extensive government buildings? Is there a ruling council or parliament or committee? How many servants/retainers/assistants do your rulers need? What land is owned by the rulers? Alternatively, you may have a religious ruling body – for example, a cathedral, or monastery, with bishops, priors or monks.
Public buildings: What public amenities are in your city? Are there many green areas or parks? Are there schools, libraries or hospitals? What about entertainment – there may be a town hall, cinema, theatre, or amphitheatre.
Utilities: What energy sources does the city use and how is the energy transported to the population? Do you have electricity? If so, it will require pylons and cabling. What about water and gas? Are they tranported in pipes? Or do the population have to fetch their own water? What’s the plumbing like? What are the sanitary conditions like? Do you have sewers?
Transportation: How do people get around? Animals – like horses or camels? What happens to the animal waste? Do you have vehicles? What are the roads like? Can they cope with the traffic? Are there areas where people wouldn’t want to walk alone? What are the pollution levels like? Can boats access the city?
Trade: How do people obtain the things they need for living? Are there many shops or markets? Are there merchants and traders? What does the city manufacture itself? What goods does it export or import? Do have a need for services such as lawyers or accountants? Do you have builders and construction workers? What jobs do people do? Does the city rely on the farms and villages around it for food production?
Defense: Do you have armed forces? Where are they housed? Would the city need to take defensive action – and could it? How self-sufficient is the city? What protection do the natural surroundings offer the city? Could the city cope with a siege? Are the water and food resources easy to defend? What is the law and order policy in the city? Do you have emergency services?
Bringing this back to my personal city, as mentioned, I have a city in a medieval setting, situated at the base of mountains, near to a forest and a river. I intend to have a royal family in a castle for my rulers. The king will be head of a ruling council. He will have a daughter, the princess. There is an extended royal family. And there will be a castle wizard.
Medieval cities are typically noisy and dirty. Many of the population will be poor, and have large families living in small houses. There will be richer houses nearer to the castle. Farmers will come in from nearby villages to sell their produce at market. Farmers have horse drawn carts. Most people in the city get around on foot. Richer people have carriages.
There are few niceties in a medieval city as it’s built for practicality rather than aesthetic reasons. Entertainment will be things like outdoor theatre by travelling performers, and musicians in taverns.
There will be many local traders. Children will be apprenticed to traders as soon as they are old enough. If possible, they will follow in the family trade. Magic will also be a trade, and the services of wizards are bought and paid for like any other service.
The forest and river give ready sources of wood and water, so wood is fairly cheap and easy to come by. The city specialises in skilled carpentry and bespoke woodwork.
The king has an army, which also offers apprenticeships. The army live in barracks attached to the castle. There are stables for all their horses.
That’s enough detail for me to get a feel of my medieval castle city. Watch out for the next post in the series!