Dave Profile picture
Jul 23, 2018 15 tweets 3 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
Tip for new #dnd DMs creating their first town: Design it to be useful in play and to your players, not as an entry in your world's fictional atlas. It will still be interesting and flavorful, but in service to having fun at the table. I will explain.
Matt Colville (whom I hold in high esteem as a #dnd evangelist) released a video recently to inspire new DMs to build their first town. It does provide a lot of detail, but it's not really detail that D&D adventurers wouldl have (or should have) much interest in.
He lists a bunch of medieval tradesmen along with a few D&D town staples like an inn, a wizard's tower, and a church. It's not wasted work, exactly, but how many PCs do you know who come to town asking to see the farrier or the wheelwright?
You should design your town with questions that an adventurer might have. What needs or interests might they have that you could prepare ahead of time to produce fun at the table?
Here's a list of questions that's somewhat well-known in certain corners of the D&D Web. They have a bit of an old-school slant, but notice how they're focused on what's more likely to happen at your table when dice are being rolled.
1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
3. Where can we go to get plate mail custom fitted for this monster that I just befriended?
4. Who is the mightiest wizard in this area?
5. Who is the greatest warrior in this area?
6. Who is the richest person in this area?
7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
8. Where can we go to get cured from the following conditions: poison, disease, cursed, lycanthropy, death?
9. Is there a magic guild my wizard can join to get more spells?
10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage, or other expert NPC?
11. Where can I hire mercenaries?
12. Where can we go to get cures for: poison, disease, curses, lycanthropy, or death?
13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them, I will become famous?
15. Are there any wars brewing where I could go fight?
16. Are there any gladiator arenas or fighting pits where I can fight for glory?
17. Are there any secret societies with hidden agendas that I could join or fight?
18. What is there to eat around here?
19. Are there any legendary, lost treasures I could be looking for?
20. Where is the nearest dragon or other creature with a big treasure hoard?
See the difference? By answering these questions, you're still going to produce some common features of a D&D town: the inn, wizard's tower, and the rest. But those features are a *byproduct* of the more interesting ideas you're generating.
Are there any secret societies lurking about? Great! Figure out a few details and *then* decide how they shape the buildings and people in your town. Is a legendary, lost treasure hidden in a nearby dungeon? Maybe there's a retired adventurer in town who failed to obtain it.
Worldbuilding advice for new DMs often pushes them to the "atlas" approach, as if it's going to be published for others to read and use. New DMs internalize that approach *because* it's how they see WotC and other publishers present information.
Try to steer yourself away from mimicking published sources. Use these questions as an inspiration for thinking about designing for actual play, not designing for the atlas.
Populate your town with things that *adventurers* are likely to interact with or find interesting.

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