100 City Seeds to Prompt Better Worldbuilding

We’ve put together a list of 10 writing prompts to help you quickly create a city from scratch. Each prompt includes a d10 random table.

Medieval Fantasy City map procedurally generated by Watabou.
Generate a map like this to go with your city using Watabou's Medieval Fantasy City Generator!

Inventing a city from scratch can seem like a daunting task. There’s too many moving pieces to imagine all at once. People! Buildings! History! Government! Laws! Culture! Economy!

Here's the secret: start with a single seed, and let your ideas branch out from there. It works for the smallest hamlet up to the largest metropolis. Start with one single idea, then ask yourself a question.

How about: A city that worships chickens.

Then ask yourself a question about that. It could be any question: What does that look like?

Maybe you start to imagine a ridiculous religious costume. Or you see a market overrun with wild chickens, so everyone wears big high boots to avoid getting pecked or scratched. Then maybe there’s a whole economy of people taking care of them. And everybody probably eats a lot of eggs...

We’ve put together a list of 10 questions you can ask to kickstart your idea. We’ve then offered 10 possible answers to each question. Go with whatever idea jumps out at you first, then follow that path as far as it takes you. When you’re ready, ask yourself a different question, and take off in a new direction. Sometimes a great question to ask is: what is a person that lives here? Any piece of information could spark a colorful NPC.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly your ideas start flowing. So let’s do it!

Table of Contents

  1. Who’s in charge?
  2. What do they believe in?
  3. What dangers lurk inside the town?
  4. What dangers lurk outside the town?
  5. What do they do for fun?
  6. What industries does the town have?
  7. What major events do they hold?
  8. What was here before?
  9. What do they eat?
  10. What can’t you do in town?
  11. Creating a city: El-Kay

Who’s in charge?

Even if you don’t expect your players to actually meet the person in charge, they’re still likely to set the tone of a town. A tyrannical lord who viciously taxes his populace will create a very different atmosphere than a benevolent elected leader who feeds the hungry.

Ask yourself, whose voice carries the most weight in town?

d10Ruler typeAsk yourself...
1Feudal lordWhat is their relationship like with the rest of the populace? Do they give generous feast days, or work their serfs to the bone?
2Town councilAre council members town elders or are they elected? Do they hold other jobs around town, as well as serving on the council? Anyone your players meet might be a councillor.
3Democratically elected leaderWho is allowed to vote: everyone? Only women? Do halflings only get half a vote? Who else is running for office, and whose vote are they courting?
4MagocracyIf magic rules, what school of magic is it?? Illusionists? Necromancers? Blood mages? How do all the non-magical people feel about it?
5CorporationWhy did the company choose this site to build a town? Is the economy based on “company credit” or do they use regular gold?
6TheocracyIs it a religion of peace and kindness, or war and conquest? ? What religious artifact or holy site might it be based around? Does this religion exist elsewhere in your world, or is it an insular sect?
7Military ruleWhy did the military take over the town? How long have they been in charge? How do the townsfolk feel about the situation?
8None (Commune)Is the commune functioning as intended? Are people trying to manipulate the community to draw power to themselves? How do they decide who empties the latrines?
9None (Anarchy)Was there an event where leadership collapsed? Why do people stick around here? Is it utter chaos or a functioning stateless society?
10Powerful eternal beingAre there millenia-long public works projects? How do they protect themselves? Do they appear in the day to day? Crazed lich, wise sphinx, or perfectly balanced monk? 

What do they believe in?

As well as the religions in the town, think about other significant beliefs your city might hold—be it widespread belief in a god or pantheon of gods, a superstition about a monster in the lake, or even the cultural narrative of the city’s history. A place that sees itself as the last bastion of an ancient and glorious civilization has different priorities than a scrappy port town looking to grow and expand.

d10Belief typeAsk yourself...
1PantheonWhat kinds of gods are worshipped in town? Is it a wide range of deities, or are they connected by a theme?
2MonothiesticWhat god does the town worship? Is it a common form of worship in the area? How do they treat nonbelievers?
3AnimisticHow does this inform other aspects of the town? How do they interact with the world around them?
4Creature worshipWhat kind of creature do they revere? A dragon, sphinx, sea monster, or some kind of eldritch horror? How did this happen?
5Machine worshipWhere did this technology come from? Why was it lost? How was it re-discovered? What guidance does it give the people?
6PhilosophyIs there a state-sanctioned philosophy, or is it actively debated among the locals? Like Sigil, are factions built around them?
7Civic DestinyWhat is the perceived destiny of the town? Expansion? Preservation? Why has that belief flourished, and what is the cost?
8IsolationismWhy does the town avoid interacting with the outside world? Was it by their own choice or forced upon them?
9PacifismHow ingrained is this belief? How did they develop? Is there an active threat that endangers that stance?
10SuperstitionWhat local beliefs are held in town? Is there basis for those beliefs? What hints do they provide about quests for the players?

What dangers lurk inside the town?

Calling Mos Eisley a “hive of scum and villainy” tells you in five words the kind of place Luke and Obi-Wan are walking into. Just a few words can go a long way to define the feel of a place.

In a small town, this might simply be one nasty gang that the players encounter. Maybe rival families have a feud going on, and the violence between them sometimes spills out into the streets. In larger cities, these could be full-blown crime rings, criminal conspiracies, or feuding corporations in a futuristic setting that have no problems with hiring gun-toting mercenaries to intimidate or eliminate the competition.

Perhaps the danger is related to the town’s politics or industry. Maybe the boss of a mining town doesn’t mind losing a few miners if it boosts the bottom line. Maybe factory workers have gotten fed up with poor conditions and the owner has called in a group like the Pinkertons to break the strike.

Any of these decisions can lead you to other elements in your city. If the local mob holds the real power, what is their relationship with the town's nominal ruler? Does the government oppose them, or has the Chief of Police been bought off? How brazenly do they show their power?

d10Internal dangersAsk yourself...
1Rival familiesHow often does the fighting erupt? Do they have follow codes of conduct? What are they fighting over, and ?are any family members trying to make peace?
2GangsHow big are the gangs? How many? Is one of your players unknowingly wearing gang colors? Do they fight over territory, drugs, or to catch the rarest butterflies?
3Corrupt ConstabularyWho controls the guards? Are they likely to lock up troublemakers or “disappear” them? Who or what do they turn a blind eye to?
4Crime RingsWho is involved? Does the crime reach to other cities and towns in the region? How high does the conspiracy reach? All the way to city hall? What areas might be off-limits to outsiders?
5MurderersIs there a serial killer on the loose? Or are people assassinated in the streets? How might the players get involved in the investigation? What might get the players on a hit list?
6Press-gangsWho is doing the kidnapping? What kind of work are they being forced to do? Does anyone come back? Who do they snatch, and where do they do it?
7Industry BossesHow bad are the working conditions? How have they cracked down on people who opposed them or protested?
8PersecutionWho is being persecuted? Who is riling up townsfolk against those groups? What is the real motive behind it?
9Animal or creature attacksHas a super-tiger been released from a lab? Goblins sneaking in to raid the taverns after hours? Perhaps a good old fashioned werewolf?
10Dark cultsCults to what? Devils, dragons, dark wizards? Is their goal to end the world, ascend to godhood, maintain the cosmic balance? Are their rituals fueled by blood or do they harvest nightmares?

What dangers lurk outside the town?

Sometimes the most important building is the city wall. Everyone might be more than happy to pool half their wages to make sure there’s always ten guards on duty. What is it they want protection against?

External dangers can also provide great hooks to pull players into the action. What if defenses fail, or the threat is somehow compounded unexpectedly? Your population may need a hero or five.

d10External dangersAsk yourself...
1BanditsMerry Men or common robbers? What led these people to banditry? Highway robbery or high seas piracy?
2Standard WildlifeWolves, bears, tigers, or hippos? Do people have a habit of wandering into their territory? Or are they actively encroaching on their habitats?
3Uncommon WildlifeDid life find a way and now the forest is infested with dinosaurs? Owlbears? Monstrosities from an ancient war?
4Environmental HazardsThis heavily defines the area around the town. Are there swamps? Active volcanoes? Tar pits? Scorching deserts?
5PlagueHow does it spread? Has it been kept outside of the city so far, or is it about to creep in? How have they stayed safe?
6Fantastical PlagueDo swarms of zombies lurk outside the city limits? Is it a rage plague or a blight of undead?
7Economic threatIs the town slowly dying because of outside interests? How and why are they interfering? 
8InvadersWho is invading? Is this the front line of an enemy army or a more small-scale conflict between towns or fiefs?
9Inhuman InvadersAliens or aberrations? Visitors from another world or eldritch horrors pressing on reality? Why have they come?
10Neighboring nobleSomeone like Bluebeard or Elizabeth Bathory? A mundane murderer taking advantage of their position or something more supernatural?

What do they do for fun?

Sports and entertainment can be a defining element for any city. Think of the gladiator fights of ancient Rome—it evokes a hardened, scrappy underclass and a privileged, soft elite. Or perhaps they’ve turned to the arts, and poets recite on street corners.

In a small town (or a dull place), the mere arrival of new characters might be enough to capture local interest for an evening, especially if they’re desperate for news of the outside world.

d10Local pastimesAsk yourself...
1Mount RacingHorses or other creature? Popular activity or serious industry? Is the gambling legal or underground?
2Martial sportWhat is most popular? Wrestling? Archery? Javelin throwing? Why martial sports in particular?
3Ancient sport or modern analogsIs it just straight-up modern soccer? Or more like an older ball-kicking game? How is it different from modern sports?
4Fantasy sportIs it played on dragon back or using elemental powers? Are the balls magical and trying to kill you? Is it played for fun or to the death?
5MusicAmateur or professional? What style or genre of music? What instruments? Are there any famous musicians?
6Games of chanceDice or cards? Who tends to win? Is it played in an organized casino, a backroom game, or on a streetcorner?
7Board gamesWhat type of game is it? Does it have a modern equivalent? How many players? Is there a magical element?
8CombatWhat rules or restrictions does it have? Weapons? Unarmed? Is it more like MMA or gladiatorial combat?
9TheaterMundane or Magical? What kind of shows are staged? Are tickets easy to come buy, or bought out for months?
10Broomstick racingIs this the fantasy Tour-de-France or a fantasy X Games?

What industries does the town have?

How has your city survived economically? The engines a city runs on can affect all sorts of things, from the distribution of wealth, to the food available at market, to the skillset of the citizens.

Is it self-sufficient, growing its own food and recycling its waste, or is it an export town that ships in weekly supplies? What do they bring in? Perhaps they manufacture the highest quality weapons in the land. What kind of customers come to Swordsville?

d10Local industriesAsk yourself...
1MiningWhat kind of mine is it? Is the material used for practical items, fuel, decoration, or coinage? Paid or penal labor?
2Diamond MineWhat does that mean for settings like D&D where diamonds are used to bring back the dead? Is this an area protected by the crown, church, or government?
3OrchardsWhat other industries have popped up? Cideries or wineries? How else are these agricultural techniques used?
4FishingHow is the catch this year, good or bad? How is this affecting the town, and what might be causing the local conditions?
5AgricultureWhat kinds of farms are in the area? How do they transport their crops or livestock?
6Trade HubHow did it get started? Is it a port town or was it built on a crossroads?
7Artisan goodsWhat does the city specialize in? Pottery? Glassware? Metalwork? Weapons and armor?
8TourismWhat is the main draw of the town? Who tends to come? Do they come on pilgrimage or simply for holiday?
9ShipbuildingDo they specialize in warships or merchant vessels? Who are their main clients? Are they independent or run by a nation or government?
10KnowledgeIs it a college town? Does it host a renowned university, or was it built up around it? What do they specialize in?

What major events do they hold?

There doesn't always have to be a major celebration going on when the players come to town, but a harvest or solstice festival can be a fun backdrop for the players to interact with. Even in the off-seasons, it gives the people in that town something to look forward to, fret about, or reminisce over.

As a hook for adventures, an event provides a lively setting. Perhaps the dictator is coming to kiss a few babies, or a murderer is taking advantage of the crowds. Perhaps a parade provides cover for the players to stage a heist.

Beyond festivals, these events could include tournaments, visits from local aristocracy, or even a royal progress as a queen or monarch surveys their kingdom. On the smaller scale, this could include the wedding or anniversary celebration of an important person in town, visiting carnivals, or bonfire nights.

d10Local eventsAsk yourself...
1Archery tournamentWhy is this being held? Tradition and skill or an attempt by an evil noble to lure out a cocky brigand in the woods?
2Full tourneyWho is attending? Nobles? Knights? Is it primarily for the aristocracy or can the players enter as well? Do they have to fake a pedigree to enter?
3Local contestsHow do they compete? Baking competitions? Artistic creations? Agricultural contests? Blink dog shows?
4Performance festivalMusic or theatre? Are we talking fantasy Woodstock or ancient Greek dramatic festival? Is it a competition?
5Privately-financed festivalsWho is putting up the money, and why? Is this to curry favor with the locals?  What do the organizers get out of it?
6Occult holidaysWhat beliefs are practiced? Is it to ward away bad spirits or to pay respects to the dead? Are there secret rituals going on somewhere?
7Harvest festivalWhat kind of harvest? Are we talking corn mazes or festival games? What traditions do they practice?
8Religious holidaysWhat religious significance does the event have? Does it honor a historical event, or is it an adapted holiday from a older culture?
9Science/Magic expoWhat kinds of projects are shown? Technological or magical advancements? What crowd might attend this event?
10Solstice festivalsAre gifts given? Will an off-brand Santa Claus appear for a Christmas special? Is it religious or local tradition?

What was here before?

Before the city was built, what used to sit on this spot? A city built up around a trading post may not have ruins beneath it, but a port town might. And who knows what a desert’s sand might conceal.

Cities built on the remains of older civilizations might have catacombs and dungeons, which may or may not have ancient artifacts or horrors. And how could your city’s history, ancient or not, affect daily life now?

Players or significant NPCs might trigger some long-awaited event from history. And surely there’s a local historian with a crackpot theory.

d10Ruler typeAsk yourself...
1Feudal lordWhat is their relationship like with the rest of the populace? Do they give generous feast days, or work their serfs to the bone?
2Town councilAre council members town elders or are they elected? Do they hold other jobs around town, as well as serving on the council? Anyone your players meet might be a councillor.
3Democratically elected leaderWho is allowed to vote: everyone? Only women? Do halflings only get half a vote? Who else is running for office, and whose vote are they courting?
4MagocracyIf magic rules, what school of magic is it?? Illusionists? Necromancers? Blood mages? How do all the non-magical people feel about it?
5CorporationWhy did the company choose this site to build a town? Is the economy based on “company credit” or do they use regular gold?
6TheocracyIs it a religion of peace and kindness, or war and conquest? ? What religious artifact or holy site might it be based around? Does this religion exist elsewhere in your world, or is it an insular sect?
7Military ruleWhy did the military take over the town? How long have they been in charge? How do the townsfolk feel about the situation?
8None (Commune)Is the commune functioning as intended? Are people trying to manipulate the community to draw power to themselves? How do they decide who empties the latrines?
9None (Anarchy)Was there an event where leadership collapsed? Why do people stick around here? Is it utter chaos or a functioning stateless society?
10Powerful eternal beingAre there millenia-long public works projects? How do they protect themselves? Do they appear in the day to day? Crazed lich, wise sphinx, or perfectly balanced monk? 

What do they eat?

While you don't have to come up with a whole menu, a city’s diet has a whole series of implications. It can hint at the environment and how connected it is to other places. A polyglot of cuisines might imply a safe haven for refugees, while dried spider’s legs could suggest a lack of trade.

Who’s the best cook in town? How do they get along with the food critic? Is making soup against the law?

d10Local cuisinesAsk yourself...
1FishIs it a small town with a fish farm or on a river, or a large coastal town with a big fishing industry?
2Real world livestockCows or buffalo? Sheep or guinea pigs? Many different cultures keep different types of animals. What domestic animals are kept in town?
3Fantasy livestockIs the town in an area where real world livestock wouldn’t survive? Why have they turned to more fantastical creatures? Which ones?
4Fantasy plantsWhat makes these unique or otherworldly? How did the town come to cultivate them? 
5Cereal grainsWheat, oats, rice, or corn? How is it grown? What kinds of food are made with it? What threatens the crop?
6VegetablesWhat type of vegetables are grown here? What does the climate support? What pests endanger the crop?
7FruitsWhat kinds of plants grow here? How are they grown? Where did they originally come from? Are they native to the area or imported? 
8Underground foodsWhat grows or lives in the dark? Mushrooms or sprouts? Cavefish? Do they trade for other foods or subsist on local varieties? 
9LegumesHow are they prepared? What kinds of foods are made from them?  Are they used as part of crop rotation with another crop? 
10Sentient creaturesWhy did the town turn to cannibalism? Do they hide their eating habits, or is it something they are open about?

What can’t you do in town?

What’s against the law? Just think of a few things for now—you can improvise the parking fees later. And how is that law enforced? A small town where the only law is the townspeople themselves is a very different environment than a city with a regiment of guards.

A town that outlaws dueling is going to be a very different place than a town that outlaws dancing. A ridiculous ban like “No one can wear green after sundown,” might have been enacted because of a local curse or superstition. Or maybe an event in the town’s past led to a ban on something innocuous, like dancing. Was the ban motivated by a particular political force or was it the brainchild of the local religious authorities?

Consider also how the locals feel about the laws. They might all keep tabs on each other, like a neighborhood watch, or they might lie for each other when the police show up.

d10Local crimesAsk yourself...
1MusicDancing, Singing, Public Performances, Bards, etc. What strange event would lead to a ban on something usually so beloved?
2CurfewsIf nobody’s allowed out after dark, why? Are there creatures in the dark? Conspiracies playing out? Blackout patrols? What do people see when they peek out the window?
3Alcohol or IntoxicantsWhat do people do to blow off steam? Are there illicit speakeasies? Is this law top-down, or supported by the population?
4WeaponsHow do they keep weapons out of the city? Do the city guards still carry arms? Do people carry hidden cane swords, or poison one another instead?
5MagicNecromancy, summoning spells, herbalism, illusions, etc. How do people react to magic users? Was there a magical catastrophe? Are their religious restrictions against magic?
6Racial bansWhy would a city bar dwarves completely? Is it a holy religious site? Are they driven mad by some natural phenomenon? Are they rude or apologetic about it?
7LiteratureAre all books banned, or just a certain writer? How is information communicated instead? What messages are the lawmakers trying to suppress?
8TechnologyPerhaps an inventor’s contraptions are a public nuisance, or a historical war led to abandoning certain research. What might cause a fear of technology, and what could alter that opinion?
9SatireCan the Supreme Ruler’s ego not handle it? Perhaps revolutionaries are fomenting rebellion via popular plays. What sort of jokes are safe to make, and does laughter draw the guards?
10ReligionIs it one particular religion, or all sects? Is this area protected from the gods somehow? Have people turned to other belief systems?

Creating a city: El-Kay

Using some of the examples above, let’s spitball a city called El-Kay. Let’s start with choosing an option from the Belief table above, then flesh it out with some of the other questions.

Belief (Table 2)

It would be interesting for the players to come across a genuinely pacifistic town, so let’s make that the defining characteristic of the city.

Bans (Table 10)

It makes sense to have a ban on weapons within the city walls. But how is that ban enforced? How about: the city limits are enchanted somehow, but there’s also incredibly tough guards at every gate.

Outside dangers (Table 4)

Pacifism as a belief will stand out best when it’s threatened, so let’s add some danger. A neighboring, conquest-happy city-state has set its eyes on the pacifist town. But why? How about...

Industries (Table 6)

The conquering neighbor needs a reason to invade, so let’s give our pacifist town a thriving economy. Trade would probably do well in a pacifist, weapon-free town, so let’s have it serve as a neutral ground for trade and negotiation. These treaties will be tested as the tension rises with the rowdy neighbors.

History (Table 8)

Why does this town have its pacifistic stance? Let’s say a century ago, the town served as a location for a treaty that ended a great war. As part of the peace terms, no blood could be shed in conflict within the city walls. The fort where they signed the treaty is an historic site, and still used as the seat of government today. Speaking of government...

Rulers (Table 1)

A decision needs to be made about the aggressive neighbor. Who will make that decision? There would probably be a democratic council, elected by everyone over the age of majority. They want to wait for their allies to act, arguing that history forbids them from protecting the peace by force. But not everyone on the council agrees...

Internal dangers (Table 3)

Some of the council members have subtly manipulated trade in order to build up large fortunes. They’re afraid of the invasion and are planning to empty the city coffers and flee. Local factions are arguing to break with history and take up arms against the invaders.

Entertainment (Table 5)

Things are already pretty tense in El-Kay. Let’s say the most popular game in town is kickball, and teams of children from the surrounding region have come to compete in a tournament. The specter of war is heavy on the minds of the parents and coaches, and tempers are quick to flare. They usually take it out on the referees.

There’s plenty going on here already, so we won't tack on a cultural event or a cuisine yet. By starting with a single seed, we quickly came up with a setting, people to meet, and problems to solve (or at least interfere with). If we run a game in El-Kay, we have a lot more to work with when we need to improvise.

There’s no right or wrong way to use these questions or prompts. Enjoy, and share what you’ve created on the LegendKeeper Discord!

Happy worldbuilding.

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