Creating Fantasy Settlements - Introduction

Settlements in fantasy games are treated poorly.

They tend to exist and static objects, without history or style. They're often just a resource centre for adventurers - a place where PCs buy potions or armour. They're placed without thought, and have no function of their own. Or they're outlandish fantastic places that bear no relation to the settlements we see in the real world.

We all have some experience of settlements of various sizes - it's a rare person who lives without any experiences of some kind of hamlet, village, town or city. We're an urbanised population. You may have less experience of life in a tiny settlement like a thorpe of hamlet, than you do of town or city life.
So by living in these spaces, we have some ideas about how they work. We'll usually put these ideas into effect when the adventure takes the heroes to a village or city: there's a market place, a tavern, a jail, and so on.

Often, that'll do fine. The players aren't much interested in a strung out series of farms and crofts in the valley, but only really pay attention to the coaching inn where they've stopped for the night, or the spooky manor house they're exploring. Nor do they care much about the theatre and opera while they're busy trying to persuade the temple priests to heal their dead companion (he's only mostly dead, see).

But an understanding of what makes settlements tick, what makes them arise in the first place, why they are found where they are, what you can find in them, and so on - that will help the referee running the game to improvise, and answer those impromptu questions: "Is there somewhere in the village I can get a magic sword?" or "Who's in charge here?"

Knowing how and why real world settlements work will also help you make those bizarre and outlandish places like the flying castle, or the volcano city, or whatever you come up with seem more real.

So I'm going to write a series of posts on various topics around settlements. It'll be a long project, and I may post many unrelated topics in between, but I'll tag them all "Fantasy Settlements", and link to them here.


Still to come... 

  • Part 3: function 
  • Part 4: zoning


Exercise, heat and hydration

Running during the current heatwave is hard work.

In normal conditions, I carry a backpack of isotonic drink to keep myself hydrated for longer runs, but for a short few kilometers, I tend to wait till I get home.
However, in this heat, I need to carry water on even the short runs.

Without good hydration, lactic acid builds up, sapping strength and stamina. Extreme cases will do serious damage.

Drowning in rules
Most role-playing games don't deal with this particularly - they may have some rules on general fatigue, or on heat damage from high temperatures, but there tends to be less about water consumption.
3rd Edition D&D, which is based on the d20 rules, which I'm using for my own game, does have a rule for how much water one needs each day - a gallon, apparently - double or treble that for "very hot climates". (It's in the Environments section of the DMG - under starvation and thirst.)
This sort of quantity seems to me to be so excessive as to be useless. Also, there's no accounting in that rule for exertion or lack of it.

So, I thought I'd see if I could find a simple mechanism to reflect dehydration in RPGs, including under hot conditions, and when exerting oneself.
(I'm not looking to make real world recommendations regarding survival rations here - just to get some verisimilitude for rulings regarding water intake in RPGs.)

When I run for 3 hours, I'll drink about two litres of isotonic. I will tend to need to top up my water intake after I've run. This seems to be in line with recommendations - although I've just planned this based on how I feel about my own thirst while I run.
In hot weather, I'll drink more - but only by about a third or so. Of course, this is British hot that I'm talking about: just 30 Celsius or so in the shade.

Dehydration damage
What I don't know in detail - and what I'm not keen to find out first hand - is the point at which I start to get injured or ill from lack of water.
Thankfully, the internet provides answers. We start to get ill when we exceed 2% body water loss. At 5% - 10%, headaches and other symptoms set in, including seizures, and even death.
In game terms, let's say that at 2% dehydration, there's a risk of symptoms - penalties to act, and so on. You're not at your best, but you can still manage to get things done.
At 5% or more, the penalties get worse, and real damage starts to set in.

It appears that body water is estimated at about 60% of the mass of a person. There's bound to be some leeway in that, depending on physique, but we can stick with that figure for now. 2% of that 60% gives us about 1% of mass. I'm rounding off, of course.

Litres per kilo
To translate that into litres per kilo, a 100kg person starts to experience dehydration symptoms once they've lost about a litre of water. This seems to be in the right order of magnitude: it's said that an average person needs to top up a loss through sweat, urine and breath of about 1.2 litres per day.
We get a bit of water from normal food intake, so if we use 1 litre to replace 1.2 litres, it seems close enough for our purpose. Let's stick with 1% of mass as our benchmark for dehydration symptoms - with severe symptoms appearing at 5%

Remember my drinking 2 litres for 3 hours of exertion? That's double my daily need, in an eighth of a day. It seems like exertion increases your dehydration sixteen times. But let's also assume that you spend only 10 hours per day active, with the other 14 hours split into relaxing and resting / sleeping - and then compress all our water loss into that 10 hour slot.
(D&D assumes an 8 hour day in terms of travel, so we seem to be in the right region. I know that's fairly artificial, but the time you spend working is going to be the major contribution to your daily dehydration, while the resting time is less important.)

That means that my 3 hour run is about a third of the day - and I've got a thirst for double my whole day water intake. That means I'm drinking six times more for that three hour exercise than I would normally.
Maybe I'm drinking more than I strictly need because I have water on tap - so let's drop that down to a multiplier of five. Very conservative - but we're looking for minimum intakes to avoid serious ill health.

So for any portion of the day spent exerting yourself, you need five times the amount of water you would normally.

That means that for every hour spent in strenuous exertion (forced march, mass combat, frantic digging, hard rowing, and so on - generally if you're expending about double the usual effort to achieve your task), you need to drink an extra half pint per 100lbs, or 500ml per 100kg.

Heat and thirst
I also found I was drinking about a third more water when the temperature was 10 degrees more than normal. (That's Celsius, of course, I'm a scientist at heart.)
Compare that with the D&D rule that you need double for "very hot climates". The weather section of the rules gives temperature categories of "cold" (0 - 40 degrees), "moderate" (40 to 60 degrees), "warm" (60 to 85 degrees), and "hot" (85 to 110 degrees), with scope for cold snaps and heat waves (subtracting or adding 10 degrees each). Of course, this being a darn tootin' Yankee creation, these temperatures are in archaic Fahrenheit - so my 10 degree jump seems to take us pretty much from one temperature category to the next.
What this seems to tell us is that you need to add one third to your water intake for any given time period for each 10 C or 20F above normal temperate weather conditions - for each weather category, in D&D terms.
But the maths for adding thirds of 100ths is going to make hard work - let's simplify, and make it one half.

Attempting a rule
Let me try to put all this into a rule:
Humanoids need to drink 1/100 of their body weight in water or water-based liquids each day, or risk dehydration. For this calculation, 1lb = 1 pt.
Every hour of strenuous exertion adds one half that amount to the total needed that day, as a top up drink. Strenuous exertion includes mass combat, frantic digging, hard rowing, and so on - generally if you're expending about double the usual effort to achieve your task, then the effort is said to be strenuous.
For each weather category hotter than "moderate", the amount of water required is increased by 1/2. That is: In warm weather, you need 1.5 times the amount of water; in hot weather, you need 2 times the amount; and in weather exceeding 110 F, you need 2.5 times the amount.
Make this increase after adding any extra amount for strenuous exertion.
Round all these numbers up to the next half pint.
 Each hour of strenuous exertion prompts you to either drink the required top up amount, or make a save, as below.
Each day, or as prompted above, if you've drunk a whole 1/100 less than your required water, you must make a Fortitude save, DC 15 (+1 for each time you've had to make this save since you were last fully hydrated). Failure indicates that your are fatigued.
If you've drunk 3/100s less than your required water, you must make a new Fortitude save, DC 20 (+1 for each time you've had to make a dehydration save since you were last fully hydrated). Failure indicates that you are exhausted.
Once exhausted through lack of water, every hour you must either drink the required amount, or make a new Fortitude save, DC 20 (+1 for each time you've had to make a dehydration save since you were last fully hydrated). Failure means that you take 1d4 lethal damage.

Not really very simple, though is it? Maybe we should just use D&D's rules after all...

But let's compare what I've got with the 1 gallon rules from D&D:
Consider a 200lb fighter. He needs to drink 2 pints per day to keep hydrated. In a typical adventuring day, though, he has a few encounters (lasting a few minutes in total), runs about a bit, and so on - amounting to maybe one hour of strenuous effort. So he needs an extra 1 pint for that hour.
We're still nowhere near to the D&D gallon - less than half. It'd take another hour of activity, plus some hot weather to get there...

But maybe we need to imagine that a normal state for a hero is that she's putting in some strenuous activity each day - that seems right, doesn't it? She's not very heroic if she's just lounging about all the time, is she?
Resting, or light duties would be the exception, not the norm for a heroic character.

So, let's try another approach, aiming for the lower intake values, but keeping the relative simplicity of D&D rules:
Medium characters need at least half a gallon of water-based liquid per day, assuming they are actively adventuring. When resting, undertaking light professional tasks, sedately travelling (such as aboard ship as passengers, or at a regular pace on mounts), and so on, this requirement is halved. (Small creatures need half as much in all cases.)
For each weather category hotter than "moderate", the amount of water required is increased by 1/2. That is: In warm conditions, you need 1.5 times the amount of water; in hot conditions, you need 2 times the amount; and in conditions exceeding 110F, you need 2.5 times the amount. For each 20 degrees above 130F, the requirement increases by another half.
A character can go without water for 1 day plus a number of hours equal to his Constitution score. For each pint that a character drinks during that time, add another 6 hours. In hot weather, halve these times.
After this time, the character must make a Constitution check each hour (DC 10, +1 for each previous check) or take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage. Characters that take an amount of nonlethal damage equal to their total hit points begin to take lethal damage instead.
Characters who have taken nonlethal damage from lack of water are fatigued. Nonlethal damage from thirst or starvation cannot be recovered until the character gets water, as needed - not even magic that restores hit points heals this damage.
That'll do - the crazily excessive gallons are gone, hot weather is accounted for, and strenuous activity is built into the base line requirement, with provision for lazy layabouts.


Morals, ethics and character development

Right from its start, Dungeons and Dragons introduced the concept of Alignment - a bench mark of your character's moral and ethical outlook. By assigning an alignment to your character, you were making a statement about the sort of person that character was, morally and ethically - rather than simply having your character take whatever action seemed optimal.
Arguably, without this innovation, D&D would just have been an adventure game, with no in-built role-playing requirement.
(Would our hobby have developed differently without this role-playing rule? We'll never know.)

Alignment is described in Pathfinder and 3rd Edition D&D as a "creature's general moral and personal attitudes". Other games have similar concepts: World of Darkness has Virtues and Vices, for example.
I'm going to use the term alignment to refer to all such moral and personality traits within RPGs. I won't get bogged down in discussing the meaning of alignment systems of different games - you can use the links to look at the examples above.
However, in this article, I'll concentrate on the D&D alignment system, as it's the one system that comes in for the most criticism.

What alignments do for us, is they provide us with a short-hand term to describe the usual behaviour of our characters and creatures in the game. D&D goes on to describe alignment as "a tool for developing your character's identity." If your character is Good, that means something about the way she acts in response to critical situations. D&D says that "Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others." So you've got a handle on at least one part of her behaviour just from that single word.
That seems worthwhile - after all, if we have nothing to set our characters' personality apart from our own, then we could just be playing an adventure game, and not playing a role at all.

Search through almost any role-playing game forum, and you'll quickly find that many people don't like the use of alignments in their games. I asked around on some forums again, to find out what the common objections were.

Nearly a quarter of the negative remarks were to do with the bad role-playing that alignment can produce: dumb and goofy role-playing by some players has been excused by reference to the character's alignment. "I'm supposed to be totally random, innit? Chaotic Neutral For the Win!"
I'm not sure that this is really the fault of alignment systems. Bad role-players will use any excuse.
Interestingly, as we'll see from the positive comments below, the role that alignments play in fostering role-playing was raised as a positive point as well.

Over a quarter of the responders said that they didn't like the poor definitions of the alignments. "Good" and "Evil" are hard to define when confronted with complex examples - is it evil to kill hostage-takers, putting the hostages at risk? - is it evil to kill the non-combatant members of a tribe of orcs?
This is levelled squarely at D&D's alignments, and in particular, many of the comments mentioned that the definitions had changed markedly over the editions of the game.
To me, that isn't a helpful thing to raise: each edition of a game supersedes the previous one - you shouldn't try to mix rules or alignment definitions.

On the topic of slaughtering helpless orc children - the idea of species that are "always chaotic evil" took a fair bit of flack. The generally allowed exception was angels and demons and other inherently magical creatures - it was agreed that these sort of otherworldly creatures can embody an alignment.

About a fifth of the negative comments were that alignment is restrictive. Interestingly, D&D and its derivatives specifically say that alignment "is not a straitjacket for restricting your character". So how is alignment restrictive? From reading between the lines of these responses, it seems that the restrictive comment includes worries about the fixedness of alignment, rather than the narrowness of the alignment. (We'll see that this is supported by some of the positive comments, below.)
I'll add comments about "lack of nuance" to this section, as well - taking the total share of negative comments up to nearly half. This addresses the narrowness of alignment, and the perceived inability of alignment systems to reflect characters who display complex moral and ethical behaviour.

On the other hand, there were some very positive responses about alignment systems in my survey.

The most common positive response (at 50% of the positive comments) was that alignments promote at least basic role-play. That ties in with what I've said above - alignments build in role-playing, by making you think about how the alignment affects your character's behaviour.

Roughly equal shares of the positive comment pool were given to a few innovations in alignment systems from various games. I found that people liked alignment systems that allow change, that base alignment on reputation, and that reward the playing of the alignment.

Lastly, a few respondents said that they liked alignments because they promote team play. If all of your adventuring group share a moral outlook, then the group is able to pull together. Players are less likely to screw over their fellow players' characters if they are working towards a common goal.

Embrace change
So we can see that players don't liked fixed alignments, finding them restrictive, and some have said they like alignment systems which allow change.
This makes for good drama and verisimilitude. People rarely have fixed moral attitudes throughout their lives. Some of the most interesting characters in fiction have changing ethics through their stories.
In the hero's journey, characters often reject the heroic quest to try to carry on with their comfortable existence - behaving in a Neutral manner: avoiding hardship and risk, perhaps while advocating that someone else should take on the burden. Later, however - because they are heroes, of course - they accept the quest, and become Good - actively pursuing good despite the risks and hardships.

George Lucas wrote Star Wars with the Hero's Journey in mind, and so provides us with some clear examples. Here we go:
At first Luke Skywalker refuses Ben Kenobi's quest (to go with him Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force), only later going when his adoptive family are killed. Even then, he doesn't appear to be particularly motivated - until he's exposed to what the Empire are doing, and meet people he cares about who are fighting against it. 
So in alignment terms, we could say that Luke goes from the human default of True Neutral, towards Good, through a series of attitude changes.
Changing personalities in RPGs therefore should not merely be catered for, they should be encouraged. Exploring how adventuring and heroism changes your character's attitude, or the villain's personality, is an exciting and interesting thing to do. Static, unchanging characters are dull.

Making alignment dynamic

Over the years, I often tried to think of ways to make alignment dynamic and flexible - to let characters move between alignments, and give players consequences to their role-playing of their alignments.
Even before I started working on this post, I was trying out some ideas.

What the research I did for this post has taught me is what people want from alignment, and what they want to avoid.
I've pinned down the goals to the following:
Alignment should be rewarding, changeable and nuanced, and promote role-playing.
I toyed with the idea that as your drift from your moral compass points,  you become more susceptible to magical coercion, possession and so on, and less able to produce magical effects that rely on dedication to an alignment.
Mechanically, this would be through gaining misalignment points - inspired by the Dark Side points system of the various Star Wars RPGs.
Several things made me give up on this idea - it would be hard to implement, for a start, but mostly because it punishes characters for role-playing.
So, I discarded it.

Reputed alignment
After discarding misalignment  as a bad idea, I thought about rewarding alignments - granting special abilities or bonuses based on alignment. This idea was prompted by a relatively new player who said that he didn't see the point of alignment, as it didn't gain you anything, except maybe some experience points rewards.
At first, I thought these benefits would just be connected to your normal alignment - but it gradually dawned on me that your reputed moral and ethical outlook would have at least as much effect on the world than your true morals and ethics.
This then led me to think about having two alignment systems, running in parallel - letting you play characters who were hiding their true nature, or acting against their true type.
There are so many examples of this in media - Bruce Wayne isn't the self-centred playboy he pretends to be,

In summary, what I came up with is this: 

Your moral and ethical outlook makes a difference to your understanding of others.

It is easier to understand creatures and people who are similarly aligned to you.
You gain a +1 alignment bonus to Sense motive checks against targets with any shared alignment axis.
 It is hard to understand people and creatures that are utterly opposed to your way of thinking.
You take a -1 alignment penalty to Sense motive checks against targets with an alignment on the opposed alignment axis.
 The GM applies these bonuses secretly, without revealing the alignments of NPCs. 

Heroes become more well-known as they achieve memorable actions - this is reflected by an increasing reputation bonus.

Your reputation bonus is equal to 1/2 your level (rounding down, to a minimum of 0).

Additional reputation bonus rewards may be granted by the GM. Characters doing conspicuous deeds may gain increased reputation. Generally, such reputation bonuses should be no more than +1 / level.
The reputation bonus sets the level of fame for your character. If NPCs have heard of you, then you gain modifiers to certain charisma-based checks, depending on your alignment. A successful check means that your reputation modifier is applied to certain social skill checks.
To determine whether any particular NPC has heard of a character with a reputation score, make a reputation check, DC15.

A reputation check is 1d20 + reputation score + NPC's INT modifier

The GM may substitute a Knowledge skill bonus for the Int modifier if he decides the character’s past activities apply to a particular field. For example, if the character were a cleric, Knowledge (religion) might be appropriate.
Reputation acts as a penalty to Disguise checks.
Applying reputation
Your reputation modifier is applied differently depending on your alignment.

All alignments gain their reputation score as a reputation bonus to Diplomacy checks with targets having the exact same alignment. Reputation bonuses stack.

Good alignments grant a reputation bonus to Diplomacy.
Evil alignments grant a reputation bonus to Intimidate.
Chaotic alignments grant a reputation bonus to Intimidate.
Lawful alignments grant a reputation bonus to Bluff.
These rules fulfill my aims of making alignment attractive, flexible, and nuanced.