Fantasy settlements - part 2.5: Location, location, location!

People don't just throw a stick in the air and build a town where it lands - at least, those who do don't meet with enough long term success for your player party to encounter such a shambolic shanty.

What makes a good location?

A good location is one where the settlement can thrive. At its base level, the location provides something that other locations do not. That may be some physical resource, like water, or it might be a geographic resource, like a meeting of transport routes, or a social resource, like a holy site.

Here's a page where the topic is summarised nicely for high school level studies.

What can I add to that? Not a lot really - except some fantasy specific examples and possibilities.

Bridge point
The Twins - A Song of Ice and Fire
Osgiliath - The Lord of the Rings
Osgiliath by AbePapakhian (Deviantart)

Thandol Span / Dun Modr - Wetlands / Arathi Highlands, World of Warcraft

Nodal point
The Crossroads - Northern Barrens, World of Warcraft
Inter-dimensional and inter-planar portals - a town around the entrance to the Underworld

Dry point
Swamp Castle - Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Thousand Needles (post-Cataclysm) - mesas as islands in a now flooded valley, World of Warcraft

Atlantis (post sinking) - often depicted as an air bubble under the sea

Wet point
Ramkahen - Uldum, World of Warcraft

Ramkahen - Surrounded by desert


Stormwind - fortified prominence, World of Warcraft
Minas Tirith - The Lord of the Rings
Minas Tirith guarding the narrow point between the mountains - Encyclopdeia of Arda

Winterfell - hotsprings protect against the worst of winter, A Song of Ice and Fire

Blackrock Mountain - a safe solid haven in a land of fire, Burning Steppes, World of Warcraft 
Light's Hope - a holy haven in a diseased land, Eastern Plaguelands, World of Warcraft

Nordrassil - magical resource - The World Tree of Mount Hyjal, World of Warcraft
Keep on the Borderlands, OD&D - a town supporting adventurers flocking to newly discovered dungeons or crypts

The growth point of a settlement will tend to set the form of that settlement: Aspect and Resource based settlements will often have dispersed buildings; Bridge and Nodal point settlements are frequently linear (clustered along one of the strips), and other settlement types tend toward the nuclear (closely gathered around  the central point).

As successful small settlements expand, their original purpose may be lost - they'll begin to attract people for the protection that comes from large numbers and the opportunities of towns and cities. These larger settlements become nuclear around the original centre.

EDIT - some additional examples:
From the various forums where I trawled for comments, a wealth of additional suggestions have popped up.
  • To launch an offense - campaign headquarters may become permanent given a long enough conflict
  • Military base - town supporting a military base, perhaps a training ground rather than a strategic point. This becomes significant with standing armies, rather than the predominant medieval muster of knights and militia.
  • Religious - loads of examples. Probably fits the resource categor, under tourism. Pilgrims making devotional journeys to religiously significant sites were common in medieval times.
  • Accidental / catastrophe survivors - refugee camps become permanent over time
  • Victory / battle site - in the Excalibur movie, Camelot is founded on the site of a great victory
  • Slave city for massive monument - the pyramids' construction was supported by a massive city of workers
  • temples around the site of fissures that give off psychoactive fumes
  • mage schools around areas where the boundaries between the planes grow thin
  • mountaintop laboratories to catch the lighting
  • village of vassals to a nearby dragon
  • small settlements of people trying their luck at removing the sword from the stone
  • summer/wintering grounds in the path of prey migratory paths
  • boom towns/ghost towns - some enormously valuable resource has been discovered, and people are flocking to exploit it (boom), and the aftermath of the drying up of that resource (ghost town)
  • outcast/leper colonies
  • campsites for academic expeditions

1 comment:

  1. Sorry for the delay!
    This post has taken me ages to get down - mainly because there is so little to add to the academic literature.
    I hope it's useful to be reminded of the lessons of high school geography.