Settlements and people

Settlements and People

Are the natives friendly?

A real place of exploration

One of the joys of writing fantasy fiction is that it gives you the freedom to design a world from scratch; you can let your imagination run wild creating dark forbidding forests, waterfalls, lost cities, and so on…

This page looks at the settlements in the world, who lives where, why and what impact the world has upon them. 
The Main Fantasy design menu provides more in-depth details to fantasy world designing
Throughout these articles I will reference my own fantasy world that I designed to help demonstrate it, how it interacts and grows with the stories that I write. In truth I enjoy creating the world just as much as the story writing

Who lives where and why

From the earlier articles you should now have the general setting for your fantasy world, an idea on the key geographical aspects of the world and the basic type of culture that exists there. The next stage is to start putting some thoughts on how to put more detail into the parts of the worlds that are inhabited.

In theory you can put what you want where you want, but by putting some thought into how the habitations can exist in your world where they are, you will cause the world to become more structured and easier to work with in future stories. It will also give a ‘comfortable’ feel to the readers as it will make the world easier to visualise.

Settlements can range from vast cities to small villages to a single house on a cliff side or even a tree – your background culture type will give you the basic guide to the types of settlements that your characters will come across. My own world is the typical English Dark/Middle age period of time (1000 – 1400 AD) and I will use this period as my working example within this article.

Settlement considerations

Things to be thought about include:

  • Is it a peaceful or a dangerous area to settle – if dangerous then you may not come across any small settlements unless they have a very good way of keeping themselves safe.
  • Is it close to a water source – cities in the middle of a desert must have some source of water
  • How easy is it to obtain the supplies you need – if you are in a rich area for food then you can have larger towns and easier life styles
  • Is the geographical landscape amicable for habitation – mountainous areas or swamps are unlikely to have large settlements without some means of support

Even if you do not explain to your readers why a place is located where they find it, you still need to decide for yourself how it came to exist there. For example if you like the idea of having a city found in the middle of a desert, perhaps there is an underground network of tunnels through which rivers of water flow and they can then extract the water from there. You do not necessarily need to bring this fact up in your story at the time, but the reasoning is there for any future returns to that city – and who knows, there may even be an adventure in those deep, dark, fast flowing river tunnels… but that’s another story.


Geographical influences

The landscape will affect the type and size of the habitation, and to a certain extent the culture that you will find there.
Generally a fantasy world will have an ‘ordinary’ area where settlements exist and the land around them is suitable to sustain a reasonable standard of living. Even if your characters do not journey there much, they may be affected by what does happen there and it can also provide a lot of background stability.

My fantasy world design

The type of settlements created in Cruthia often relate to its geography as this is the key attribute in making that decision most of the time, especially for the general background of the world that does not feature much in stories. Using this as your guide will intuitively let you know what to expect if the story digresses into an area not visited before.

The North:
Towards the north there is a fertile productive area of land with a good water supply that is capable of supporting cities; this area is the most civilised and safest to travel through. It is separated from the more ‘primitive’ adventure area by a wide river running from east to west, this river acts as a natural dividing line and has only a few crossing points which are controlled by those living on the northern side.
The inhabitants of the cities have access to libraries and have security from conflict and the harshness of life elsewhere in the world so have a highly civilized way of life. The nobility originate from there and they use that knowledge to deal with the other areas of the world. Two of the key characters have spent time in the cities and know how to fit in when they visit.

Dmites forest 447
The South:
In the far south there is a mountain range that is not easy to past through, along its northern edge there are a number of simple settlements of small towns with a loose level of law and order. It is not always a safe place to venture into, especially beyond the towns and even less so if you do not know the area. They have no regard for the people from the cities and they are not welcomed in these lands where they are treated as a threat to their way of life. Many towns are walled and guarded, especially the further you are from the Great Road that runs from the south to the north 
As for the inhabitants that live on the southern side of those mountains! … they supply a good source for rumours and it provides richness to any character from there that they may encounter on the own adventures

No stories have been written for these areas, but the basic geography and distance from the ‘civilised’ areas will give me a good start for when I do venture into those areas or create characters who come from there. 

West and East: 
To the West is the ocean that runs the full length of the land. In many places there are high cliffs so there are not too many settlements along the coast.
To the east are a number of geographical features that are small in their range, such as forests and mashes. They have little impact on the stories at the moment but settlements can easily be created there using the geography as a guide when the time comes

The area in between: 
The area in between the river in the north and the mountains in the south has the basic medieval feel to it, with many towns and villages and good roads between them. The further North you go the more stable is the way of life around the main roads found there. However even in the north there are still plenty of places where there are no settlements for adventures to take place.

Habitation influences on your characters

30 farm belowThe attitude and personality of anyone that may be encountered during an adventure will be influenced, in part, by the type of environment that they come from. Large civilised areas may have many thousands of individuals inhabiting the area and they will be use to some type of law and order to their existence, characters from here will be use to social exchanges and working in ordered methods.
Smaller towns within a hostile geographical area may institute some type of law and order for that area. Their population may not be too large, but the more hostile the area the more likely that the people will inhabit the towns rather than live outside of them.


The characters personality should be partly affected by the habituation that they come from. Someone born in a city will be use to being surrounded by others and may have better knowledge of the world through study but not have any experience in real life – they would be confident in the more structured and ordered parts of the world. Their advice may include details such as – “If you want to get on with these people never bow your head, it is highly offensive to them and you may end up not having a head to raise afterwards!”
Someone who was born in a small well-guarded town may not know how to mix in a large social group, but will know how to deal with the creatures and dangers in the ‘unsocial’ parts of the world. Their knowledge will bypass the social and knowledgeable aspects of large social areas, but will make up for it with practical application  – “Never mind the name for that sword stroke – can you actually use the weapon?”

My fantasy world design

One of my key characters comes from the civilised northern cities, whereas another came from south of the river. The one from the south was sent to an academy in a northern city, which is where the characters met. Their different culture backgrounds combine to help in their journeys together.
So far I have never had an adventure in the well inhabited/civilised areas north of the river, but it has many references to it within the stories and sometimes a decision made there affects the story. In one instance in a very important way that sets the entire background scene for one of the key characters!


  • Keep it simple, don’t create a place that is not suitable to the story plot
  • Ensure that the habitation has some way of existing where it is found. You do not have to reveal the reason, but you do need to know for yourself for future reference
  • Take into consideration the type of habitation that a character comes from, this can be used to help define some of their personality
  • If you do still want a bazaar illogical place for a settlement, then place it into the past and have it reference from the present – that way the characters will never need to know how it managed to exist there either.

 Jenny M L ~  Inspiring the Imagination ~ Contact Me


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