Chapter 6

Ultimate Settlement Guide

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

Drawing Your Settlement

In part I of the town building guide we made decisions that would ultimately determine the contents of our settlement and the influences that would shape it over time. In part II, we’ll be taking these decisions using them to draw a map of our settlement and the surrounding area.

There is a dedicated page in the back of the town building booklet that you can print out to draw on or if you’d rather something larger feel free to use your own. If you’re using a drawing tablet, you can use the PSD template here (LINK TO FILE).

How you want to draw your map is entirely up to you, we’ll simply be reviewing the process that I follow when creating settlement maps, using the information we collected in part I of the town building guide.

In this chapter, we will:

  • Sketch the terrain that our settlement is placed on
  • Sketch the settlement boundaries and any defenses that exist
  • Mark any significant landmarks or neighboring communities
  • Place the roads within our settlement
  • Place the buildings within our settlement


Map Styles, Tools, and Outsourcing

How you draw your map is entirely up to you. If you’re struggling with finding a style, search for examples online. There are countless artists out there creating amazing maps, all with different techniques and styles. Some of them have even created tutorials on how they work (worth taking the time to watch). Just remember, no matter how good an artist someone is, they started off (and likely continue to) referencing other people’s work and trying to emulate it.

For tools, there’s no limit. Pencil, ink, digital painting, mapping software… use what ever tools that you need to create something you’re happy with. What is important is that you’re giving yourself the opportunity to make mistakes and not taking it too seriously. The easiest way to not finish something is to convince yourself you’re not capable of it (even I’m guilty of doing this). Remember that you can always scrap it and start over!

If you’re 100% against drawing a map yourself, put together some crude sketches of layout and the concepts until you’re happy with it and find someone to who you can throw some money at to make it a reality. There’s no shortage of talented people who would love to help.

Example Settlement


Settlement Size
  • 2,200 people
50% of population is within the settlement walls.
Settlement Races
  • Humans (80%)
  • Elves (10%)
  • Other (10%)
Elf population is representation of friendly relations with northern elf settlement.
  • Temperate Forest
Significant Monument

In the middle of the settlement is a collection of magical floating stones that shift position based on the planetary cycles. The stones themselves draw from a natural deposit of ancient magical energy. It is unknown who or why the stones were created, however, the current settlement uses them as a symbol of their deity.
Valley, River, and Island

The settlement will be built along a meandering river, with an island in the middle, that is in the middle of a large valley. There are mountains to the North and South. The balancing rocks are located on the river island.
  • Tourism
  • Forestry
  • Agriculture

The settlement is governed by the religious group that worships the Balancing Stones, called the Order of the Godstones.
Small port city (down river)
Forest Town (elves) to the North
Hostile settlement towards south mountain
Source of Water
  • River
  • Drilled Well
  • Settlement Walls (Wood)
  • Gatehouses
  • Towers
  • Local Militia
Source of Food
  • Agriculture (Primary)
  • Hunting/Gathering (Secondary)
Balancing Day

The summer solstice, in this settlement known as Balancing Day, represents the public celebration of the deity of the Order of the Godstones. This day is used as one of the biggest draws of visitors to the settlement. In recent years, the local merchant’s guild has worked with the order to extend the activities outside of the single day to maximize the income from tourists.

Festival of Light

The Festival of Light occurs for one week once every 3 years, where the Order of the Godstones welcomes in new members and those within the organization ascend to higher ranks (if there are those who are worthy). The festival itself is open to the public, however, many of the rituals and day to day activities of the Order of the Godstones remain a secret.

Cherry Blossom Festival

The Cherry Blossom Festival is celebrated each spring as the cherry orchards outside of the settlement and that naturally occur all throughout the valley begin to blossom. The festival is a joyous time that brings visitors from all over the realm to visit the region and partake in the festivities.

Logging Company(s)
Order of the Godstones
Town Guard
Merchant's Guild

Sawmill, Inns (3), Taverns (2), Temple, Forestry Camp, Farms, Mill, Guild Hall, Town Square, Tailor, Graveyard, Bakery, Gatehouse(s), Orchards, Houses, Stables, Jeweler’s, Apothecary
North Mountain, South Mountain, Balancing Rocks, Town Square, Temple, Mill, Forest Camp, River Mouth

Draw the Terrain

Before we can determine where our settlement boundaries are, we have to lay out the surrounding areas (i.e. terrain, landmarks, neighbouring communities). Once those are in place, we can sketch out the boundaries of our settlement. If the settlement you’re creating has defenses, such as walls, we’ll be sketching those in now too.

First, sketch out the terrain that you decided on in part I.

For my example settlement, I chose a valley, with a river running through it. There’s an island in the middle of the river that I plan to base the settlement around. To the north there will be forests and a mountain pass. The river itself will meander through the valley from east to west.

Here’s what I came up with.


Mark Landmarks and Neighbours

I’ve included two neighbouring communities. One neighbour is to the North by the mountain pass and one is to the West, downriver. To the north is a mountain pass and forest, while the southern mountains lie below. There also is a hostile settlement south of the river, several days ride away. There’s a significant landmark that my settlement is built around (“The Balancing Rocks”) which I’ve marked on the river island.

  1. Balancing Rocks
  2. Western Neighbour
  3. Northern Neighbour

Town Boundaries, Entrances, and Defenses

With the landmarks in place, it’s time to sketch my settlement’s boundaries. Because of the importance in of the Balancing Rocks to my settlement, it’s going to be situated close to the river island. I’ve decided to put my settlement on the North side of the river as means of defense from the hostile neighbours to the south. I am putting wooden walls around my settlement, so I’ve drawn in the walls after I sketch out the boundaries and mark the four three entrances (North, East, and West). There will also be gatehouses at each entrance, so I’ve drawn those in too.


Draw Primary Roads

Now that we’ve got our terrain, landmarks, and boundaries sketched out, we can place our roads. While you can place your roads anywhere and in any formation that you see fit, there are some basic rules of thumb that you can use to make the process easy on yourself. These rules are as follows:

  • Main roads connect your entrances, in more or less of a straight path.
  • Main roads extend from your entrances towards neighboring communities or landmarks (e.g. mountain pass)
  • Roads tend to follow natural lines in terrain (e.g. along a river)
  • A perimeter road lies around the inside of your settlement’s boundaries; this can be a physical road or merely an imaginary boundary where secondary roads end
  • Secondary roads divide your settlement from the perimeter and the main roads, often in a orderly fashion (e.g. blocks)

When sketching roads, I start by drawing the main roads connecting the entrances. An easy example is a settlement with four entrances (north, south, east, and west). This settlement would likely have two main roads connecting from North to South and East to West with a crossroads somewhere towards the center of the settlement.

In my settlement example, there are three entrances. I start by drawing the two main roads that connect near the center of the settlement using dotted lines.


Draw Perimeter Road (Optional)

Second, we’ll decide whether we want dedicated perimeter road or simply use the perimeter as a boundary for secondary roads. I am a fan of perimeter roads in walled cities, however, I typically set them far enough from the walls to allow for buildings to be placed between the perimeter road and the walls. If you want a perimeter road, sketch it in.

In my settlement example, I decided that I wanted a perimeter road that ran along the walls of the city and drew that in.


Draw Secondary Roads

Third, we’ll mark the blocks that we want to divide the settlement into by sketching secondary roads connecting the main roads to the perimeter. If no real perimeter road, just end the secondary roads at the perimeter.

In my settlement example, I decided to break it down into a grid of 4 * 4 using the shape of the river to allow my roads to curve and provide some variation.

STEP Seven

Continue Primary Roads

Fourth, once I’m satisfied with the settlement roads, I draw the continuation of the main roads out of the settlement towards the marked landmarks. If a neighbouring settlement is friendly and a trade partner, there is most certainly a main road that connects my settlement to theirs. If there are hostile settlements the roadways may intentionally avoid them, or additional defenses may be added along the roads.

In my settlement example, I knew that there would be main roads to my neighbouring allied settlements on the North side of the river. Due to the significance of the northern mountain pass the main road was extended north. I also decided to place the agricultural region that supports my settlement on the south side of the river, so I drew in a bridge and extended the road south. My whole settlement concept is built around this idea of the “Balancing Rocks” on the river island – so I also drew in a bridge from the city walls to the island to provide access to the sacred site.

STEP Eight

Sketch In Significant Buildings

With our roads now in place, it’s time for us to start placing some buildings. It’s important to start with the larger, more significant buildings in your settlement before you populate the streets with housing. If you start with houses, you may not have space for all of the bigger buildings that you want to place, or you may force yourself to put a building in less than ideal spot. There’s no hard or fast rule to what makes a building significant, however, I’d consider any building that you care about the location of or the layout of. If the building could be placed anywhere in the settlement and still fit your narrative, it’s probably not significant.

In my settlement example, I knew that the theocratic government would require a large temple to operate out of. I also knew that I wanted there to be a large open area for the citizens to crowd while the temple held court. Because of this, I decided to place the marketplace at the foot of the temple, instead of in a more central location. For determining where to place the temple, I chose the one location where water was on all sides, providing the most protection to the temple itself.

Step Nine

Sketch In Buildings

With your significant buildings placed, we’re now free to go ahead and draw the rest of the buildings that you want in place. When drawing houses, I tend to alternate between a set number of different sizes and shapes and when applicable, shape the buildings layout to the roads. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, so feel free to sketch your layouts in pencil first and commit to ink when you’re satisfied.

It’s important to note, the building list we came up with in part I is still relevant here, however, we’re not as worried about going in and placing every building individually. Instead, I like to group together buildings that make sense (e.g. all the shops) and pick a section or block of the map to place those buildings in. How you determine what building is what is really up to you – most of the time, I’m simply just drawing boxes and assigning what shop goes where after, when it’s more relevant to the story.

In my settlement example, I started by labelling my blocks A through L.

Then, I took it block by block, starting nearest to the temple. I knew that I wanted my shops to be placed close to the marketplace, so block A was reserved for shops. After that, I wanted to have the elite of the settlement close to the temple, reserving blocks D and B for housing of the upper class. Block C was left for additional buildings that could be used for the temple (e.g. food stores) or additional shops. Next, I determined where the inns and taverns should be located – near the entrances (blocks G, I, and L).The rest of the blocks will be used for general purpose and housing. I also remembered the agricultural industry that needed to be drawn in south of the river (marked by fields and a few buildings).

Here’s what I came up with.


Checking In

You've made it through the entire guide! By now, you should have:

  • A completed booklet tracking your decisions along the way
  • A strong foundation for a settlement that can be used as is or built upon for campaigns
  • A settlement map to use in games

Now that you know how this process works, you're free to continue building settlements and improving your gameplay.

If this guide was helpful for you, please consider sharing it with one of your friends or within your community.

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 ->