Settlements and people

Settlements and People

Are the natives friendly?

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. 

Throughout these articles the ideas will be demonstrated by referencing a fantasy world that I designed, showing how it interacts and grows with the stories that were written – Creating the world can be just as much as writing the stories!

Who lives where and why

Once the world has been defined on a geographical and regional level with some cultural understanding, then the positioning of groups, characters and creatures for encounters within the world needs to be sorted in such a way that there is some sense to their locations and operations

In theory anything can be put anywhere, but in practice by thinking about how the different habitations can exist in the world and where they can be found, 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 tent in a tree – the background culture type will give you the basic guide to the types of settlements that your characters will come across. If it close to cities or large towns, then civil encounters can take place that will be relaxed and easy, the houses will be well structured. If is beyond an unknown forest then the settlement could be spread in several locations with only a few living in each, possibly just simple temporary setups as they have to move around a lot – maybe they follow a creature as it migrates.

Settlement considerations that need to be thought about include:

  • Is it a peaceful or a dangerous area to settle – if dangerous then small settlements may be few and far apart, 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 it is in a rich area for food then towns can be larger and life styles easier.
  • Is the geographical landscape amicable for habitation – mountainous areas or swamps are unlikely to have large settlements without some means of support

If settlements exist in places that do not clearly make sense, then some thought off how they could exist there needs to be found. For example if there is a city found in the middle of a desert, perhaps there is an underground network of tunnels through which rivers of water flow, and from these they can then extract the water from there. The reason on how they exist where they are does not necessarily need to be explained in the story at that 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.
There will be ‘ordinary’ area where settlements exist and the land around them is suitable to sustain a reasonable standard of living, these areas will be suitable for farms as well as large towns, with plenty of water and ease of travel. Away from this areas, it is likely to be less civilized or have a different culture view of the world. Some ideas include

  • Deserts – no settled areas except by oasis, many live in tribes on the move across the land making temporary settlements.
  • Forest – some towns found in certain parts of the forest, maybe on the edges. Possibly a few small settlements within, plus a few small groups harvesting the forest further in 
  • Flood lands – Towns found on higher land, maybe only accessible by road at certain times of the day or year.
  • Hills – settlements found between the hills with look-outs/castles on top of some of them. Some areas friendly to travelers, others dangerous.

World design

The type of settlements created 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.

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.
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. Some 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 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 a good starting point for when stories 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 are found 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 between the cities 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?”

World design

One of the 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.
Another character lives deep within a forest where few dare to enter, but he is comfortable in his habitat and moves safely round the forest without getting lost. He is not a human character and does not leave the forest unless something requires him too, there is a human forest man who lives on the edge of the forest with whom he is friends and he will use the forest man to send messages.


  • 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 a bazaar illogical place for a settlement is required, then place its creation long ago 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 Maryl ~  Inspiring the Imagination ~ Contact Me


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