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Build Cities Around the Characters

by Mike on 31 October 2022

Introducing cities can be tricky in D&D. Even small ones have lots of locations and lots of NPCs. Big ones, like Waterdeep, can have hundreds of notable locations and thousands of NPCs. How can we introduce cities to the characters and their players without overwhelming both them and us?

For a quick minute-long video on this topic, see How do you introduce players to big cities in Dungeons & Dragons?.

As difficult as it is for you to make up or internalize so many locations in a big city, it's just as hard for the players to remember those locations. The minute you describe the eighth location the characters see, they forget the first one.

Instead, focus on the important locations. These might be the home base for the characters — a place to hang their hat. It might be the place they pick up quests, like an adventurer's hall or the local bulletin board. Maybe there's a clear adventure location like the old abandoned well, the creaky house no one goes to anymore, or the ruined watchtower out in the bay everyone says is haunted.

After these main locations build your city by thinking about what locations fit the characters. Where would they want to go. Bards like taverns, dance halls, and theaters. Clerics and paladins like temples or monasteries. Wizards, warlocks, and sorcerers might like a shady library or an arcane guildhall. Druids and rangers might like an overgrown wild grove with a grumpy caretaker. Fighters and rogues like shops where they can "buy" stuff or sharpen their weapons.

When you're building out a story, build from the characters outward. What do they want? What would interest them? This helps focus down to just a handful of places. Here's a quick checklist of the locations you might want to focus on in your next town or city:

When you're introducing a story, focus on the locations designed to draw the characters into the rest of the story, adventure, campaign, and world.

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