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Chapter 2: Tools / Settlements

Settlements in a Game

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 132
Given the variety of roles a settlement can play in an adventure, a Game Master should have a firm understanding of how they work in the game and how to best use them. Virtually every settlement uses the rules for urban environments presented starting on page 514 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Those rules are primarily intended for encounter mode, however, and so the following guidance can help you best use a settlement in the broader narrative of your game.

Settlement Adventures

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 132
Designing adventures in a settlement generally follows the guidelines presented in Adventure Design on page 40. However, a settlement’s greater population density also allows for a number of adventure styles and elements that aren’t as common beyond the city walls.

Social encounters are one of the most common interactions within a settlement, starting with the guards at the city gates all the way to an audience with the queen. The influence and reputation subsystems (pages 151 and 164, respectively) can facilitate these interactions in a more structured way. Chase scenes, using the rules starting on page 156, are an iconic component of a settlement adventure, especially in a larger city, where dense buildings and a variety of structures make for an exciting series of obstacles. A settlement is also an ideal place for a party to conduct an infiltration (page 160). Since most libraries, archives, and similar repositories of information are located within settlements, you might make use of the research rules (page 154). Ambitious characters might want to build up their own organizations using the leadership subsystem (page 168).

Modes of Play

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 132
Just like in other adventure locations, all three modes of play can happen in settlements. Since a settlement presents far more opportunities for noncombat activities than most other environments, characters likely spend most of their time in exploration mode. Downtime almost exclusively takes place within a settlement.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 132
Where there are people, there is commerce. The Buying and Selling section on page 24 provides several sets of guidelines for handling commerce in your game, but it can also be helpful to have a sense of what items and economic power a given settlement has on its own merits.

In a given settlement, a character can usually purchase any common item (including formulas, alchemical items, and magic items) that is of the same or lower level than the settlement’s. Usually, fewer of the highest-level items are available—you can use Table 10–9: Party Treasure by Level on page 509 of the Core Rulebook as a guideline for how many of the highest-level items might be available, using the Permanent Items and Consumables entries for a level 1 lower than the settlement’s actual level. Inhabitants of a settlement can usually purchase items from PCs as long as those items are the same or lower level than the settlement, with limitations on higher-level items similar to those available for sale. If a settlement’s population is significantly smaller than its level would suggest, its ability to provide and purchase items may be more limited.

If a character’s level is higher than the settlement’s, that character can usually use their own influence and leverage to acquire higher-level items, as they convince shops to place specialty orders or artisans to craft custom goods, though it might take a bit of time for such orders to be fulfilled.

Spellcasting services are available in many settlements. Barring a powerful spellcasting NPC in the city with whom the party could negotiate for services, a character can find someone to cast common spells up to a level that could be cast by an NPC of the settlement’s level. For example, a character in a 9th-level city can typically find and pay someone to cast a 5th-level common spell—the highest spell available to a 9th-level spellcaster.

Some settlements have access to uncommon items, formulas, and spells. If a settlement could reasonably be considered to meet the Access entry for an item or spell, that item or spell is available just like any common item. For example, the dwarven settlement of Kraggodan has plenty of dwarf weapons available.

Power Structures

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 132
Outside of city limits, adventurers spend much of their time operating on their own terms, accountable only to their own moral code. But in a settlement, the heroes become part of a larger system with its own codified laws, procedures, and enforcement. The details of a settlement’s power structures shape the party’s interactions within that settlement.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 133
The government of a settlement often reflects the nature of that settlement. A lawful, militaristic city likely has a hierarchical government with a single figure at the top, a crossroads market town might be under the control of its wealthiest merchant families, and a farming community might simply look to the oldest residents for leadership as necessary.

That said, the lawful and publicly recognized ruler of a settlement isn’t always the one calling the shots. They may merely be a puppet to a secret entity that silently pulls the strings from the shadows. Some settlements are ruled by hidden cabals, from strange religious sects to thieves’ guilds. A settlement might be swayed by politically powerful residents, such an occult vizier or a political savvy high priest. In some cases, the legitimate authority may seem to govern but has actually been replaced by a faceless stalker, a devil in disguise, or another powerful shapechanger.

Legal Codes

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 133
Most civilizations agree that laws are necessary to ensure a functioning society. The specific laws range from one settlement to another, and they might be as simple as a prohibition against murder and theft to exceptionally convoluted regulatory schemes dictating everything from clothing details to available confections. How well known these laws are can further flavor a party’s interactions with that settlement, as it’s likely easier to navigate a well-documented system than one in which the rules are learned only through experience and word of mouth.

Much like a government, the legal codes reflect the settlement’s alignment and overall nature. Generally speaking, a more lawful settlement is likely to have more complex laws, and a more lax locale to have fewer and simpler laws.

Law Enforcement

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 133
Most settlements have systems in place to enforce their laws. In a small village, the residents might just police themselves, holding one another accountable to their shared values. Towns and larger settlements usually have some system of guards, whether that’s a post filled by a rotation of volunteers or a city guard of professionals paid by the city’s government to maintain order. Most settlements have some way of dealing with criminals, from fines to public stocks to prison cells, as well as individuals responsible for meting out those sentences.

Organizations, Churches, and Factions

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 133
The government isn’t the only influential factor in a settlement. Prestigious organizations, prominent churches, and specialized factions all wield power as well, often in conflict with the official government or one another. Religious congregations usually wield significant power in communities where faith is strong. A wizard, sorcerer, or bard of even moderate magical talent would be a rare and influential member of society in a small settlement. An organization can wield overt influence over the community where they’re based, or subtle control, as the Pathfinder Society does in Absalom. Other notable factions may include noble houses, wealthy merchants, innkeepers, and retired soldiers and adventurers.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 134
In any settlement, it’s possible for officials to put their own interests before those of the people they serve. Corruption might be as simple as a clerk willing to accept a bribe to expedite some paperwork, or it might be as sinister as selling civilians into slavery.