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Chapter 2: Tools / Building Worlds / Civilization

Building Settlements

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 126
In Pathfinder, settlements are where characters can rest, recharge, retrain, and dedicate themselves to other downtime activities all in relative peace. Traditionally, an adventuring band comes together in some kind of settlement, be it a small hamlet nestled on the border of some wild frontier or a bustling port city at the heart of a nation. Some adventures take place entirely within a single settlement, while in others the party visits settlements only briefly between their adventures in the wilderness.

The first thing you should consider when building a settlement is its role in your story. Is this a major metropolis the heroes will visit again and again during their adventurers? A backwater village where their adventures begin? The distant capital from which an evil tyrant issues cruel edicts? The settlement’s campaign role will inform many of the other decisions you make about the place.

Once you know why you need the settlement, consider why it would exist in the world. Settlements are typically founded near sources of fresh drinking water; most commonly along a riverbank or a place with access to adequate wells or springs. They additionally require some kind of transit to other places, either roads or waterways. While it may be easier to create a village or city merely to serve the characters’ needs, determining what function it has independent of the characters adds verisimilitude and can provide hooks for further stories.

Settlements, on page 132, describes the components of a settlement stat block, which you should create for any settlement you expect your characters to visit. The process of creating that stat block will help you further flesh out your community.

Mapping a Settlement

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 126
Don’t underestimate the usefulness of sketching a map of significant settlements, like the one where your adventure starts. This isn’t intended to be a picture‑perfect rendition drawn to scale, but rather to outline the rough shape and size of the settlement. Be sure to highlight a few key structures useful to the campaign. For more inspiration, see the section on Drawing Maps (page 52).

Step 1. City Layout: The layout of a settlement is as unique as the terrain upon which it is settled. First, decide the major trade route for the settlement. This is typically a river, which brings fresh water, fish, and fast transport to the populace. Larger cities can sustain additional growth with access to a deep‑water harbor or a major overland trade road. Even settlements conceived with a grid plan tend to stretch along established trade routes before expanding outwards.

Step 2. Districts: Towns with a population over a thousand typically have defensive walls. As a settlement grows further in size and population, additional stone fortifications are often constructed beyond the city center, which further segment the city into districts or boroughs. A metropolis, for example, might have several distinct neighborhoods: Castle Ward, Noble Quarter, Temple Hill, the Gardens, Scholars’ Court, Artisan Plaza, the docks, the slums, and so forth.

Step 3. Markets and Shops: Designate one or more open spaces in the settlement for a market square. This marketplace typically grows in the city center, along a major road intersecting the settlement’s primary trade route. Lining the perimeter of the temporary tents and stalls of a bazaar are permanent retail shops offering pricier goods and services. Here in the beating heart of city commerce, adventurers can arm themselves for upcoming expeditions or sell their ill‑gotten gains once making it back to the settlement.

Step 4. Inns: Heroes need a place to celebrate and recover between adventures. In addition to both public and private lodging, a settlement’s inns often serve food and drink. As with the town market, inns are commonly built in central locations where trade roads meet. In your campaign, inns are ideal locations to spread gossip, introduce notable NPCs, and initiate quests. For the right price, innkeepers might rent strongboxes to secure money and other valuables between adventures.

Step 5. Landmarks: To give your cities a sense of personality and local flavor, design a handful of iconic landmarks for the PCs to visit. Memorable names make these landmarks more interesting. A random observatory might be noteworthy, but the Celestial Watchtower has an air of intrigue that could lead to a fun adventure hook.