We’re finally to the local mapping! I know this is all a lot of groundwork and information, but I promise it does help to think about these things. But there’s only one more post on mapping before we turn our attention to other aspects of world-building and setting up the story elements.
So, let’s dive right in!
This post won’t be as long, but I’ll go over locations for cities and some ways they might be arranged.
Cities are usually located near a large river or port of some sort. This makes sense if you think about it because cities are hubs of commerce, and this means they need a way to transport goods. Doing so via water makes this much easier than it is for land-locked places, especially if the infrastructure of your world is more medieval or hasn’t developed tech like trains or planes.
More importantly still, cities need a water supply. They have a lot of people who need that water too, so they have to have a large source nearby. And it can’t be saltwater, so having water from a large river, mountain streams, or unpolluted ground water means the difference between survival and extinction.
Other places cities might be located are in places along established trade routes, mineral-deposit rich land, places with lots of natural resources, or mines for precious stones and commodities. Water might be the most important resource a city’s founders look for, but they’re looking for the ways they’ll make money in the future too.
A final point to consider is defendability. Particularly for cities where warfare was or still is a major threat to their livelihoods, locating on the high ground or in a place that’s difficult to attack is a must. This includes building on top of high hills, building with two rivers or large bodies of water surrounding one or more sides of the city, and building in places where mountain ranges provide a solid defense against invasion.
Besides location, the city’s layout is also important. The way a city is organized determines a lot about the city. If you have it built with narrow streets and alleys, you may have people crowded in on top of each other, meaning more people can live there, but no one will be getting carts through those streets. But if you build it with larger spaces between houses and shops, you’ll have fewer people living in the city in exchange for more room to maneuver.
Beyond that, cities usually have some sort of divide between rich and poor. Every city, particular in a fantasy setting where it’s more medieval in nature, has its slums or poor districts and its rich districts. And when they’re all packed in on top of each other, the divide is that much clearer.
Then you have the castle, assuming the city is the capital or houses a major noble. Depending on the political structure, nobility might not live in a castle, but if it’s some sort of fief or a smaller city structure, perhaps they do. The castle would be the city-dwellers’ last line of defense if invaders broke through the outer and inner walls. So it would be located at a central point in many cases so that fleeing there would be equally convenient for everyone.
Besides building structure, you also have to consider how the city gets its water and the areas that might be weak points. These provide ways to get into the city during an attack, and if you plan on having the city under siege or assaulted, knowing these points will be important. You don’t have to know every hole in the wall and missing brick, but at least consider where the weakest points of defense are if you’re laying the city out. Things shouldn’t be easy for either side in a siege, right?
As promised, this is a short post. There isn’t as much to think about when mapping out a city as there is when mapping out a whole world. But the details here are just as vital because they’re going to alter and impact life just as much for characters living there.
So give it some careful thought if you know you’re going to have characters spending any significant amount of time there. It may be important to know these details later on. Solidifying them now gives you a headstart when you have to use the details later in the book.
What other things do you think about if you’re building cities for your world? Share your thoughts in the comments!