Chapter One

Ultimate Settlement Guide

A step by step process for building robust settlements for use in your campaigns.
Chapter one

Biomes, Origins, and Terrain

In this chapter we’re going to:

  • Decide on a biome for your settlement to be placed in
  • Determine why your settlement exists in the first place (i.e. it’s origin)
  • Decide on one or more terrain types for your settlement to be built upon

These three decisions will play a large role later on, most importantly the terrain and origin of your settlement. For example, you may choose a terrain that offers natural defenses to your settlement. This early decision will impact the defenses that your settlement invests in, something that you’ll be looking at later on.

Remember to look for the “Instructions” sections, as they will tell you what to do and how to keep track of all your decisions in your town builder’s booklet.

Step one


A place for everything

First, let’s look at where in the world your settlement is located. Specifically, what biome does your settlement exist in. The examples that we will cover shortly are based on the natural climates and biomes we experience here on Earth. However, since this is a fantasy settlement building guide, I’d be foolish not to mention that there are many more biomes that could exist in any fantasy setting that you’ve chosen to play in. It is up to you to determine what makes the most sense for your settlement – if you need to create your own biome, I’d suggest using one of the examples below as a starting point.

What is a biome?

A biome is a way of categorizing a naturally occurring region of a world based on the climate, flora, and fauna that are present. Biomes are not defined by political boundaries like countries, but by natural ones. Because of the importance flora, fauna, and climate play a large part in defining the look, feel, and overall development of your settlement we will start here.

Traditional Biomes

There are eight traditional biomes (some models define more, however, these 8 should suffice). The eight biomes are as follows: tropical rainforest, temperate forest, tundra, desert, grassland, savanna, freshwater, and marine.

We’ll explore each of these eight biomes in detail shortly.

Transition Biomes

In many cases, you will find what are called “transition biomes” in between two different biomes (e.g. desert to forest is transitioned by grassland). Transition biomes are a natural transition between climates, flora, and fauna. As you get farther away from the desert and closer to the forest, you’ll see more and more grass and eventually a few trees. Before you know it you’re completely surrounded by trees.

Understanding how biomes transition is useful when planning out a map of your world.

Building Biomes

When building your settlement, you are not limited to this list of biomes, you could create a unique biome that only exists in your game world based on fantasy plants and creatures. If you don’t want to start from scratch, you might consider taking a traditional biome and creating what is called a “sub-type” which keeps many characteristics of the traditional biome but has a few significant differences (e.g. cloud forest).


Choose a Biome

Review the outlined biomes below and pick one to build your settlement in. Once you’ve made your decision, check off the box next to your selected biome in your town building booklet (pg. 2). If you decide to create your own biome, there is an empty field in your booklet for you to enter whatever you’d like.

Biome Examples

Traditional Biomes

Tropical Rainforest

Tropical rainforests are large swathes of land covered in incredibly dense overgrowth that receive between 50 and 260 inches (around 21 feet) of water every year. Typically, they are close to the equator, in low-lands close to sea level, and are warm year-round. Some tropical rain forests exist on the slopes of mountains – these are typically cooler and are called “Cloud Forests”.

You’ll encounter an unmeasurable number of flora and fauna in a rainforest. Because of the sheer size and difficulty to explore on foot, rain forests may be left untouched for hundreds, even thousands, of years.

Temperate Forest

A temperate forest is the generic fairy tale forest that we’re all familiar with. There are many ways to categorize temperate forests further, however the most common classifications are based on the types of trees that grow there – deciduous and coniferous. Deciduous forests have trees that lose their leaves during the winter, such as oak, maple, and elm trees. Coniferous forests have trees that have needles that stay around all year long like pine or fir trees. A temperate forest can grow on flat land, but is often found in mountainous regions, too.

Temperate forests experience all four seasons and reside in mild latitudes of the planet. Temperatures typically stay between -20F (-29C) and 90F (32C).


A tundra is an area of cold, flat land where vegetation grows sparsely during a short period (i.e. summer). A layer of thick ice, called permafrost, covers the ground all year making it impossible for trees to root themselves and grow. This biome is harsh and windy, making it a difficult climate for most creatures to endure. What animals do live here either migrate during the winter or have adapted specifically for surviving in an extreme cold climate (average -29.2F).

Considering the low precipitation levels, a tundra is more like a desert than any other biome.


A desert is an area of land covered in sand where vegetation grows sparsely. This biome is known for its hot weather (up to 120F). At night, the temperatures drop drastically and can reach lows of below 40F. Due to rainfall patterns over mountain ranges you’ll typically find a desert on one side of a mountain range (but not the other). Small areas of life can be found scattered across the land called oases. Deserts do not have the typical range of seasons, only experiencing two: very hot (i.e. summer) and hot (i.e. the rest of the year).


Grasslands, also known as plains, prairies, or steppes, are covered almost entirely in tall grass. Rain fall is frequent enough to facilitate the growth of grasses, flowers, and herbs however infrequent enough to have frequent fires and for trees to not survive. The animals roaming in grasslands are typically large herd mammals, such as bison. Depending on the temperatures and rain levels, grasslands can be further broken down into sub-biomes (e.g. desert grassland). Grasslands experience all four seasons, getting hotter in the Summer and colder in the Winter.

You’ll often find grasslands as a transition biome between forest and desert biomes. Grasslands that occur within a forest are called meadows. Most forests and deserts were at one point in time grasslands.


A type of grassland, savannas receive enough rainfall to encourage tree growth either singularly or in open groups. Full of grazing animals, the savanna relies on the consumption of grass and natural fires to maintain a balance in the ecosystem. Like all grasslands, savanna are typically transitional biomes and represent a mix of characteristics of both forests and deserts.

The difference between savannas and a typical grassland is based on location and seasonality. Savannas are typically found in tropical climates and the seasons are defined by the level of rain fall. There is no transition to a traditional winter, only an increase in precipitation. Instead of four seasons, there are only two: the wet season and the dry season. Both seasons last roughly 6 months. During the dry season, droughts are common. The animals living in savannas must adapt to the lack of water and often migrate.


Freshwater biomes are aquatic biomes with a low concentration of salt found in the water, including ponds, steams, lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Fresh water typically comes from glaciers, underground aquifers, and precipitation. Depending on the surrounding landscape and the source of water, a freshwater biome can be classified as either lotic (flowing) or lentic (stationary).

Due to the lack of salt in the water, freshwater plants and animals have adapted to conserve the salt that they consume. The animals themselves can have great impacts on the creation of freshwater ecosystems. For example, beavers are notorious for damming water ways and causing permanent changes in their own environments. This in turn affects the migration of fish and so on and so on.


Marine biomes are aquatic biomes with a high concentration of salt found in the water. There are two main distinctions made in marine biomes, based on the distance from land. Coastal marine biomes are found near shores, beaches, and sea cliffs. In general, coastal marine biomes are diverse with large numbers of plant and animal species living within it. The second type of marine biome is called an open ocean biome. Open ocean biomes are found beyond the coastal marine biomes, far away from land. Unlike coastal marine biomes, open ocean biomes are fairly desolate and sparsely populated (think water desert).

The nature of marine biomes is heavily influenced by the currents of water and the upwelling of nutrients from the bottom of the ocean (due to changing water temperatures). Small creatures feed on these nutrients and this energy is passed on throughout the food chain. Creatures die and float to the bottom of the ocean to decay and repeat the process in a never-ending cycle of life.

Step Two


Everything happens for a reason.

Every settlement was started somewhere by someone for some reason. At some point, a few people decided it was a good idea to invest their livelihood in a small part of the world. They packed up their belongings, travelled for days, months, or even years, and eventually built a home for themselves. Over time, hundreds (or thousands) of others joined.

Completely uprooting your life and moving from one location to another is no small feat - it goes against the instinct to maintain the status quo (and safety). Yet, we still do it. Why? For whatever reason, it would be easier for us to live in this new place than where we were before. There was a promise that the new settlement made them, and they believed it.

Common Reasons that Settlements Exist

Each settlement has a different story and a different reason for existing, however, there are some common trends that we can observe throughout history for what caused a settlement to begin, grow, thrive, and even collapse. In this section we’ll go through common reasons for settlements to begin and discuss the impacts that each may have on your settlement.


Choose aN Origin

Review the list of common reasons settlements exist below. Determine which origin(s) you’d like to use for your settlement and record your answers in your town building booklet (pg. 2). You can choose multiple origins for your settlement to exist – in which case you’d simply check multiple boxes. There is also a note section for you to write any additional information that you think is important.

Origin Examples

Settlement Origins

Expansion of a kingdom, empire, or other territory

All civilizations want to grow and most do it by constructing permanent dwellings across their controlled territory. As the ruler(s) of an empire plans to grow, they deploy their people and their resources to construct settlements and roads along the borders of their territory. Depending on how important the success of the settlement is to the expansion of their territory, the more the ruler(s) will invest in it.

Towns along borders are typically the first to come under attack from enemy forces. Because of this, many border towns have defenses of their own as well as escape routes inland if the settlement is captured. The defenses could be as simple as a wooden wall or a large watch tower with a full garrison and militia.

A settlement that is used for the expansion of a territory is typically governed by a representative of the governing body that has some form of military expertise (e.g. a general to the royal army). However, due to the vulnerable nature of these settlements, it may be a strategic choice to put a more disposable leader in charge. In many cases the population is made up of soldiers and the town has enough resources to service them.

Defense of a kingdom, empire, or other territory

The defense of a territory is often more important than its expansion. Because of this, the settlements that exist to defend receive far more resources than other settlements. This means that the size of these settlements is likely larger than the surrounding settlements.

The location of these settlements is almost always strategic. Terrain that is easily defended is obviously favored, however, the greatest priority is ensuring that the settlement protects the innermost settlements within the territory. That is to say, if an enemy to were invade, this settlement is placed in a location that the enemy must deal with it to be successful. This could be along a waterway that the enemy is likely to travel or at the mouth of a mountain pass that leads to the inner settlements.

Since defense is the primary goal of these settlements, their defensive structures are far more elaborate than the average settlement. Stone walls, large towers, garrisons, armories, and even castles may be constructed and manned. Additional barriers and fortifications are built up to compliment the existing terrain to fortify any weak points that may exist. Escape routes are likely more sophisticated to ensure that messengers can get messages to allied forces ahead of an arriving siege party.

Outside of the fortified walls, the surrounding land is likely habited by agricultural communities that support the settlement. If under attack, the surrounding villages will likely flee and take refuge inside the walls of these settlements. Large grain stores are necessary to support these extra civilians and the large forces of soldiers that are likely to be stationed here. In times of peace, these surrounding villages may use the settlement as a marketplace, carting in grains, fruits, and other wares.

These settlements are typically run by a trusted representative of the governing body (e.g. right hand to the king), especially during times of war. There may be a sophisticated hierarchy of leadership within the military forces and a formal court to make judicial decisions for the surrounding area.

Unlike settlements for expansion, defensive settlements are less likely to be on the border of a hostile territory. This means that an attacks are likely to be heard about before they reach the settlement itself, giving those within the walls time to prepare.

During times of peace a defensive settlement may be made idle, withdrawing valuable resources (i.e. soldiers, etc.) to other parts of the realm. If any conflicts arise, the ruler(s) can always redeploy their troops.

A settlement grows around a significant monument or symbolic structure

We build monuments to commemorate our history, instill and share our beliefs, and show off (e.g. skill and disposable income of a realm). Depending on the purpose for the monument, there could be significance outside of merely being a statue. This purpose could be religious, historic, social, or simply a marker along a long road. If a monument inspires people to visit, a settlement may develop around it.

For example, at a religious monument, a shrine may be constructed on site for the religious followers to live and practice while they maintain the monument. Other followers may decide to travel to pay tribute and stay at the shrine while they do so.

There may be large amounts of visitors or next to none. This is partly dependent on the location of the monument. If built along a main road, you’re more likely to get visitors that are simply passing by and curious. If built deep in a mountainous region with 10,000 steps to climb first, you’re going to get only the most devote people making the trek.

Over time, the people who visit the monument may decide to stay for the long-term. They might construct additional dwellings nearby the shrine and service the growing population and the shrine’s visitors with their skills (e.g. carpentry, leatherworking, etc.).

If the monument is significant or sacred and there is the potential for attacks, there will likely be minimal defenses constructed. If there are times of coordinated visits (e.g. annual pilgrimages) there may be more guards or workers who are brought in from the surrounding area to help manage the crowds.

The make-up of the settlement will likely depend on the organization behind the monument. For example, if a church of a specific deity builds a monument and a settlement grows around it, the citizens are likely to be followers of that deity. At some point a settlement grows larger than the founding group and people move to the settlement for reasons other than the monument itself. However, the group in charge of managing the monument likely retains power over the settlement itself.

An adventurer’s compound expands

At some point, every great adventurer must retire. Some ascend astral planes and settle in far away lands while others stay close to home. Having amassed large sums of cash, deeds, titles, and connections with important people these adventurers have a unique opportunity to offer their followers employment and a safe place to live.

The location of these settlements can vary greatly. An adventurer may decide to clear out an old castle or dungeon full of monsters and settle there. Because of this, these settlements are not as limited in where they can be built. However, the ability to safely travel and develop reliable trade routes will remain an important factor in the settlement’s success.

The end goal of the settlement also depends on the end goals of the adventurer. Since they are in the leadership role, with a few trusted people around them, they can decide what pursuit the community has. If they’re focused on collecting knowledge, a library may be erected, and followers set to fill it with proprietary knowledge.

The adventurer’s compound is inherently defended by those living there. If built in a dungeon or castle, there may be traps and other defenses added on. Unlike traditional settlements, an adventurer’s compound may not have political ties and may be neutral to ongoing wars. Instead, the likely cause of attacks is the adventurer’s horde. Those that are foolish enough to attempt an attack are met with a skilled adventurer and a legion of highly trained followers.

A trading outpost is established

A trading post is a common starting point for settlements. It signifies a level of traffic and civilization that can support trade. Trading posts allow smaller, temporary communities to resupply without travelling far. In turn, they can focus their energy on constructing more permanent dwellings or gathering more resources to trade. Because of this, most large settlements had a trading post at some point.

Without the need to travel to larger settlements to resupply, people can move farther away from civilization. As more and more people move and rely on the trading post, the larger the new settlement grows. To start, this settlement may be made up of laborers who have found some means of earning a living in the surrounding area (e.g. farming, mining, etc.). Trading posts allow populations to access goods from other communities without the need for developing relationships. Instead, one person or a trading organization creates a relationship with another community (e.g. mountain dwarves) and acts as a conduit between the settlement and foreigners.

It’s important to note that a trading post is not typically the only reason that a settlement exists. For example, a trading post may be the first building constructed on the border of a territory before it’s a location chosen for the expansion of the territory. It is also common for trading posts to be built around natural resource deposits (e.g. coal mines, animal trapping locations, etc.) to act as a conduit between the region and large settlements and resupply tools that are consumed by extraction of the resource (e.g. pickaxes).

To start, trading posts are likely to have minimal defenses (e.g. wood walls). Depending on how important the trade route is and who the trading post belongs to, these defenses may be far more advanced.

Not all trading posts are built along well-travelled roads. For example, small scout outposts can be found along more dangerous roads that offer shelter and simple supplies for those living on the road for extended periods (e.g. tack bread, camping gear, rope, etc.).  These outposts are far less likely to be well defended and rely on the protection from their own organization (e.g. royal guard, hired militia).

An abundant resource is discovered

As the world is explored, natural resource deposits are discovered. These deposits offer materials for construction, sources of income, and employment for laborers that work to extract the resource. In reality, these resources are woods, metals, and other minerals that are scattered across the world. In fantasy worlds this could be magical energy that for some reason has accumulated in one place over time. Regardless of the resource that is discovered, if it is valuable it will be claimed and extracted.

Initially, there will be temporary housing for the workers. If the deposit is owned privately, the owner may decide to construct a manor in close proximity to the operation (e.g. mine) and oversee the development. A trading post may also be established to create supply lines and trade routes to the surrounding areas.

If the deposit is found within proximity to an existing settlement, it may rely entirely on that settlement for defense. However, due to the nature of discovering these deposits they are often on the outskirts of territories and lack the necessary support. In this case, they may construct crude defenses with what resources are available. If the deposit is large and will take a long time to extract entirely, these defenses may be upgraded over time as profits are earned.

The state of the claim(s) on the natural resource may be a source of conflict within the settlement. If there are any disputes, it may end in violence or a drawn-out feud between powerful people or organizations. These deposits may also attract dangerous creatures that also benefit from the resource. Or workers may encounter creatures that live underground during the extraction of the resource.

Over time, those that specialize in the use of the natural resource (e.g. goldsmiths) may travel and settle in close proximity to the deposit to ensure a steady supply of the material. Because of this, the settlement may grow to become known for both the resource and the skill of its craftspeople.

A job site for a large building or construct

Many settlements begin as a job site for a large building or construction project. These projects can take anywhere from a decade to hundreds of years to complete, depending on what they are. A castle, for example, may take 10-20 years to erect and require different types of skilled labor along the way. The labor force that works on these projects require shelter and food throughout the duration of the build.

To start, the workers typically focus on building temporary housing for all of the people involved in the construction. Any equipment that is required may also be built before the construction truly begins. Some workers may travel home for the winter months and return to work in the spring. Eventually, a large number of the workers will construct permanent dwellings and move their lives to the build site.

These settlements are typically located on top of large natural stores of the resources necessary for construction. For example, a castle is typically built on top of or near to a stone quarry. This is due to the increasing costs of transporting heavy materials. Decorative stones are the exception to this rule – due to the low quantity required, these materials are typically shipped in.

Once the build is complete, these settlements may dwindle or transition. A common transition is for workers to remain in the settlement to help maintain the building (e.g. castle).

An agricultural region invests in communal buildings

As more and more farmers occupy a particular area of land, they may start organizing themselves to share the burdens outside of plowing fields. If everyone must go to a market to sell their goods, one or two with a large wagon may go and take a larger percentage than the rest. Over time, and as the community prospers, these farmers get together and invest in structures that support the community and its people.

These communal buildings are generally multi-purpose buildings that serve the community in different capacities. This is especially true for the first building that is constructed, which may be a church on one day, a market on another, and a town hall the next. If any meetings are called between the townspeople, they are likely to gather either inside or outside of one of these buildings.

These settlements are typically small, unless there is a second industry outside of agriculture introduced. Everyone tends to know everyone, and outsiders stick out like sore thumbs. The defense of these settlements against small threats may be farmers armed with pitchforks and hand scythes. For larger threats, the people are likely to flee to the closest walled settlement for protection.

Due to the communal nature of the settlement there is likely no “owner” or “ruler”. Instead, they likely have a small council of respected people who help lead discussions when it comes time to decide. For protection, these settlements may pledge their loyalty to a certain organization (e.g. royal family) in exchange for protection.

An academic institute is founded

While few settlements start out as academic institutes, these institutes are typically the driving force for their early growth and long-term success. An institute is usually founded when a small group of knowledgeable people who teach and work together decide that it’s time to organize formally. This could be due to a new opportunity, like a benefactor willing to fund the construction, or public pressure for them to stop practicing their ways. While an academic institute doesn’t necessarily have to be a magic academy, in the fantasy world there is often a very ingrained connection between academics and magic.

An institute starts out as a large building site and over time becomes functional. People looking to study will travel and stay long periods of time, using either the academy or a building in town for lodging. Depending on the institute’s specialties are and what resources are required to practice, a number of different businesses could emerge from the demand. It is these visitors and businesses that cause the settlement to grow larger than the institute itself.

The choice of location is important for an institute. If they require rare materials for practicing their arts, they may decide to locate the institute near some known natural deposit of that resource or a climate in which that resource can be grown and harvested. If they’re practices aren’t socially acceptable, they may decide to place the institute in a hidden place, away from the prying eyes of those who wish to see them stop. If they are meant to serve an existing organization, such as a royal family, they may be required to build the institute close to those funding the construction.

For defenses, like an adventurer’s compound, a building full of mages is a defense in and of itself. However, depending on the nature of the magic at the academy there may be additional defenses that are available to institutes that are not for other settlements. There may be escape tunnels, in which case the primary goal is not only to save the lives of those within the institute but to save the knowledge itself.

Within the governance of the settlement, the institute may have a direct role. However, if they settlement grows larger than the institute, they are less likely to be in control of what goes on outside their walls. They may send a representative to ensure their interests are being considered, but ultimately can survive without the town around them.

An ancient ruin is discovered and restored/resettled

Ancient ruins are commonly repurposed by those who discover them. In some cases, they are stumbled upon by secret-hunting adventurers while other times rediscovered by the people whose ancestors were driven from the ruins.

Depending on how long the ruins have been unmaintained, the structural integrity of the buildings may be too poor to be restored. However, it makes sense to try to restore as many as the original structures as possible. Any existing defenses, such as walls, are also great candidates for restoration.

Long lost technology used by the original habitants may be littered throughout the ruins. A new settlement could exist on the grounds for decades without understanding what the technology is for or how to use it. However, if they can learn its purpose and how to wield the technology, they stand to profit immensely.

If the people returning to the ruins are descendants or sympathizers with the original inhabitants, they will likely attempt to restore as much of the art and original structures as possible. If the new settlement is settled by invaders or dislike the original inhabitants, they will likely try to demolish as much art and original structures as they can afford and replace them with their own.

Refugees set up a temporary camp

In times of war and civil unrest, large populations of people end up displaced. If they have allies, they may be welcomed onto their lands and given some support, such as food and shelter. Others are forced to fend for themselves in the wild, eventually finding a place where they are no longer in immediate danger. When these locations are found, the large groups of refugees may decide to make a camp and build semi-permanent structures until they are able to move home, find a new place to settle permanently, or are driven from their camp.

Due to the nature of conflict, refugees are more likely to have hostile communities around them. Even neutral parties may view the presence of a refugee camp close by as a negative, as they are technically competition for food and other resources. If there are multiple populations of people within the camp, such as two neighbouring regions, there is a chance that internal conflict arises as well.

Defenses will be extremely limited; however, they are likely to set up a watch each night to ensure the safety of the camp. If allies exist, they may have the protection of those allies present or the option to flee into the walls of a nearby settlement.

Additional Notes

Some things to consider...

Multiple Origins for One Settlement

A settlement is not limited to a single reason to exist – it can be far more complex than that if you’d like it to be. For example, there are cases where settlements are built alongside a castle (job site for a large building) that is there for strategic purposes (expansion of a kingdom). A settlement may complete its purpose; for example, a monument is constructed, in which case the town may die out or remain to support the travelers that the monument brings.

A Note on Time

The reason for a settlement to begin is not necessarily the reason it survives over time. For example, a settlement that is built up around the construction of a castle is less relevant once the castle is completed. At that point, the town’s purpose either adapts or the settlement dwindles over time. In the case of castle construction, many of the laborers can find employment in the maintenance of the castle and construction of the town itself.

It is the shifts in purpose over time that impact where resources are being allocated within a settlement. This explains why a building may be abandoned and forgotten or repurposed for more activities more valuable to the settlement’s population. A great storyteller can use these historical shifts to build realism and meaning into the settlements they create.

Other Reasons for Settlements

This list of reasons for settlements to begin is certainly not an exhaustive one. It is up to you to decide whether one of the listed reasons is interesting or if you’ve got another reason that fits your settlement’s concept/adventure better. However, I would caution those who are new to building settlements to not go overboard – within these architypes, there are a million different stories and adventures that could be built. Even when putting your own spin on things, you can likely tie the reason your settlement began back to one of the reasons listed above.

Step Three


Choosing a terrain type

After biome and settlement purpose, the most important influence on a starting settlement is the terrain it’s built on. Terrain helps determine what additional construction is needed to meet the minimum requirements for life (e.g. water, food, money). For example, a settlement alongside a river may not need to dig a well, as they have access to running fresh water already. A settlement built into a mountain may have natural defenses on three of four sides, saving time and money by not having to build walls. The more advantages that a terrain can offer, the better.

There are countless terrain types that exist in the real world, all of which have features that could be beneficial to specific settlements. I’ve gone through the most common terrain types that are used for settlement and listed them below. Remember, you are not limited to this list of terrains; however, they are a great starting point when considering what is possible and why you might choose one terrain type over another.

A note on combining terrain types

When you read through this list, you’ll likely realize that these terrain types do not exist on their own. For example, a valley typically has a river or multiple rivers running through it. It’s up to you to create a combination of these terrain types that not only satisfies vision, but also makes sense.

A note on requirements

It’s important to note that your terrain type does not need to satisfy all of the minimum requirements of a settlement. What is lacking from the surrounding terrain can be supplemented with additional construction. For example, lack of fresh water is fixed by digging a well. No natural defenses can be fixed through building fortifications. Terrain represents an initial decision to make the most out of the land available to the settlers – they’re going to choose a terrain that serves their purpose (primary) and that checks off as many requirements as possible (secondary).


Choose aN Terrain Type(s)

Review the list of terrain types below and determine which terrain type(s) you’d like to build your settlement on. Once you’ve decided, record the results in your town building booklet (pg. 3). It’s possible to combine multiple terrain types (e.g. valley and river) – if so, simply check off multiple boxes. There is a note section for any additional information that you believe is important.

Terrain Examples



A bay is a large body of water that is partially enclosed by land. This natural land formation creates a narrow entry point into a larger body of water, while still providing access to the surrounding ocean. Because of this, bays are typically critical points of entry for larger regions as they can be easily defended from attacks on the water (at the choke point). Bays also give settlements access to water trade routes with far away settlements, as well as an escape route if attacked on land.

Badges: Trade Routes (Water); Water (1 Side); Critical Access Point (Water)


An estuary is where a river meets an ocean. Settlements placed further up the river can use the water to access the ocean with boats, while using the mouth of the river as a choke point for any vessels trying to enter. The river itself provides a natural source of water, while retaining the benefits of trade routes via the sea. The river itself provides some means of natural protection, as the settlement can be located on one side forcing enemies to cross the running water.

Badges: Trade Routes (Water); Water (1 Side); Critical Access Point (Water)

Mountain Pass

Often found near a river source, mountain passes are routes through a mountain range or over a ridge that are easily navigable. While mountains can be passed through alternative routes, a mountain pass represents the single location where a large number of people can cross with minimal danger. Because of this, mountain passes are ideal choke points for defensive structures protecting lands on the other side of the mountain. Often times roads are built along the route of the pass to make transporting vehicles (e.g. carts) easier.

Badges: Trade Routes (Land); Natural Walls (2 sides); Critical Access Point (Land)


A peninsula is a large area of land that is surrounded by water on three sides. This leaves one side connected to the land, creating a natural choke point. A settlement or defensive structure may be built along this land bridge to control access to the peninsula itself.

Badges: Water (3 sides); Critical Access Point (Land); Trade Routes (Water)


A plateau is an area of land higher than the surrounding land, typically very flat on top and deep hills on one or more sides. Due to the elevation, plateaus offer a small degree of natural protection from attacks by forcing the attacks to funnel through predictable access routes from below to the top of the plateau. The height advantage also offers a line of sight for oncoming forces.

Badges: Elevation (4 sides); Line of Sight


An island is piece of land surrounded by water on all four sides, typically formed through volcanic eruptions. Islands offer no land access, forcing all attacks to arrive on the water. The isolation has its own downsides, as supply lines are likely crucial for long-term survival if there’s are not enough resources on the island to support the population. The farther away from land the island is the more important these supply lines will be. Islands can be located in the ocean, on lakes, or rivers.

Badges: Water (4 sides); Trade Routes (Water)


An isthmus is a narrow piece of land that connects to larger landmasses with water on either side. This land bridge offers a natural choke point for limiting access to either side. A settlement or defensive structure is likely to be built here to limit traffic from one land mass to another, controlling trade routes, immigration, and attacks.

Badges: Water (2 Sides); Trade Routes (Land); Critical Access Point


A hill is a large mound of land that extends above the surrounding terrain. The difference between a hill and a mountain is largely subjective, however, a hill is safety categorized as smaller than a mountain. Hills often had settlements built on top of them to avoid flooding, create natural defenses, and gain a high ground advantage over attackers.

Badges: Flood Protection; Elevation (4 sides); High Ground Advantage; Line of Sight


A lake is large body of water that is surrounded by land on all sides, often fed and drained by rivers and streams. Many settlements are placed alongside lakes as they provide a natural source of water and food (i.e. fish). If a settlement along a lake is attacked, people may take to their boats and sail to the center of the lake out of reach from the enemy. Depending on the connection to rivers, lakes may provide access to larger waterways for travelling.

Badges: Fresh Water Source


A river is a large flowing body of water, usually freshwater, that flows towards an ocean, lake, or another river. Rivers flowing downhill do not necessarily take the shortest path, often meandering along the way. Settlements along rivers are common as the water provides a means of faster travel, a source of fresh water and food, energy for mills, and natural defenses on one side. Most river settlements are accompanied by a bridge or two that allow the river to be crossed and the path to be protected.

Badges: Trade Routes (Water); Water (1 Side)


A strait is a naturally formed navigable narrow body of water that connects to larger bodies of water. They are commonly formed as a channel between two land masses, connecting oceans on either side. Often times the use of a strait means far less distance must be travelled (instead of taking the long way around a landmass). Because of this straits offer an ideal location for a settlement of defensive structure to control access to the channel.

Badges: Trade Routes (Water); Critical Access Point


A valley is a low area between two or more hills or mountains, often with a river running through it. Valleys offer a degree of natural protection by limiting access to only two sides. Many settlements are located along rivers in valleys, where the soil is fertile, and the land is relatively flat. Due to the nature of valleys, flooding is always a risk and defenses may be built up to protect farmlands (e.g. dykes).

Badges: Elevation (2 sides)


Checking In

You've made it through chapter one! By now, you should have downloaded your settlement booklet and completed the three tasks outlined in the instructions panels. This includes:

  • Choosing a Biome
  • Choosing an Origin
  • Choosing a Terrain Type(s)

In the next chapter, we'll be looking at some settlement details such as name, population, and races. We'll also review the basic requirements for a settlement and decide on a water source and defenses for your settlement.

Go to the Next Chapter ->

Table of Contents

Quick Travel

Chapter 1: Biomes, Settlement Origin, and Terrain

In this chapter we’ll decide what biome your settlement is located in. We’ll look at the common reasons for settlements to start and choose your settlements origin. Finally, we’ll consider the terrain that your settlement is placed upon, using the origin as a key influence.

Read Chapter One ->

Chapter 2: Demographics, Water Source, and Defenses

In this chapter we’ll look at some common demographics for your settlement including name, population, and races. We'll review the minimum requirements for a settlement (e.g. source of food) and decide on a source of water and the settlement's defenses.

Read Chapter Two ->

Chapter 3: Industries and Government

In this chapter we'll review the concept of an industry and decide on one or more industries to support your settlement's population, including a source of food (e.g. agriculture). Next, we'll look at common government structures and decide what type of government you want your settlement to have.

Read Chapter Three ->

Chapter 4: Events, Organizations, and Buildings

In this chapter, we’ll review the concept of events and choose one or more annual events to be celebrated in your settlement. Next, we’ll look at common organizations and use our past decisions to determine what organizations exist in your settlement. Lastly, we’ll take all of the decisions we’ve made so far and determine what buildings will be placed in your settlement.

Read Chapter Four ->

Chapter 5: Neighbours and Landmarks

In this chapter, we’ll look at the surrounding areas of your settlement, including the neighboring communities and their relations with your settlement. While we’re at it, we’ll look at landmarks and determine what significant landmarks exist in and around your settlement.

Read Chapter Five ->

Chapter 6: Drawing your Settlement

In this chapter, we’ll take all of the decisions we’ve made and start drawing a settlement map. We’ll go through a step by step breakdown of the drawing process that I use, using an example settlement that I built using this guide.

Read Chapter Six ->

Resource: Town Building Booklet

If you would like to use the templated booklet to track your answers, use the link below to download the booklet for free.

Download the Booklet ->