Settlement types have been used to in D&D style games for as long as I can remember. The first edition DMG had a nice table (p173) that was used for randomly determining the contents of a hex, which also include population guidelines. There has been something similar in every other rule-set that I have used – because it is such a handy tool for the world designer.
There have been, and still are, many different RL definitions of settlement types. They have changed historically and the change with jurisdiction, so in my definitions I have chosen something that ‘sort-of’ fits at least one RL definition, and fits in with the standard progression as seen in various game rules. Where appropriate I match the descriptions up with examples from my House Rules and assign an average population to help with my number crunching and population calculations – although the number of people living in each type of settlement could vary significantly. A settlement should have the people that you need it to have J
Literally just one single dwelling – it might be home to an extended family running a smallholding, a group of hunters, a hermit, a watchtower, or an oracle.
Under my house rules, a Watchtower, Base Camp, Smallholding, Tree House, Holy Grove and Witch Hut all count as single dwellings. Average population = 10.
When two or three dwellings comes together, they are called a thorp. They are too small to support a church, council, market, shops or businesses and tend to revolve around rural activities such as smallholding, fishing. They do not have a might, however, have a shared barn or other minor infrastructure. As a community they are relatively self-sufficient, but have to take their excess good to the nearest village or town to sell.
Under my house rules thorps form naturally in the hinterlands of towns and villages. A typical thorp might contain two smallholding families and a family of ‘river-folk’ who make a living from fish, waterfowl and reeds. Most residents are commoners and you can find low levels of many country crafts (basket work, carpentry, trapping, hunting, bow-making etc). Average Population = 30.
A Hamlet is step up from a Thorp. It is large enough to support a few businesses but relies on the administrative systems of a Village, Town or City. It might be based around a farm, a vineyard, a ranch, a mine, a country house, a monastery – there are many possibilities.
Under my house rules a hamlet counts as a secondary settlement and can be found in the hinterlands of primary settlements, although there are strict limits on the number of hamlets each settlement can support. Hamlets are nearly always planned developments that needs investment, and they increase the number of Thorps and single dwellings a hex can support. Average Population = 200, however only about half of these people live in the hamlet, the rest live in single dwellings and thorps close to it.
A village is the main rural settlement – it is just about large enough to support a few businesses and the administrative system for the area. However, it could be managed by a Village Elder, the Lord of the Manor or by a Bailiff (as part of a larger estate).
Under my house rules, a Village is the first of the primary settlements and ‘controls’ the whole of its hex and oversees any other settlements (Single dwelling, Thorp, Hamlet) in it. There are restrictions to the number and type of developments available in a village, which makes it a part of the rural economy. A series of hexes with villages would make a good ‘holding’ for rangers or (perhaps) followers of a farming / rural deity.
Alternately, a village could also be upgraded (with the right investments) to a town (and then a city or metropolis) and form the hub of a more traditional ‘holding’.
Average Population = 300, however only about half of these people live in the village, the rest live in Single Dwellings and Thorps close to it. (The village’s Hinterland).
Town / City / Metropolis
The only real difference between a town, city and metropolis is size – they all have the same sort of thing – only the scale increases. Urban areas generally serve as a trade nexus, are the home of serious crafts-folk, professionals and the wealthy. Small towns may have master-crafting weapon-smith, while larger towns and cities might produce progressively more powerful magical items. The same is true of professionals – you are unlikely to find a lawyer in a village, but many towns will have some sort of legal professional – although the best will congregate in cities or a metropolis. It is the same with magical service, religious buildings and just about everything else.
Small Town: Average Population = 1,000, however only about half of these people live in the town, the rest live in Single Dwellings and Thorps close to it. (The town’s Hinterland).
Large Town: Average Population = 2,500, however only about half of these people live in the town, the rest live in Single Dwellings, Thorps and Spontaneous Hamlets close to it. (The town’s Hinterland).
Small City: Average Population = 7,500, however only about half of these people live in the city, the rest live in Single Dwellings, Thorps and Spontaneous Hamlets close to it. (The City’s Hinterland).
Large City: Average Population = 17,500, however only about half of these people live in the city, the rest live in Single Dwellings, Thorps, Spontaneous Hamlets close to it. (The City’s Hinterland).
Metropolis: Minimum Population = 25,000, however only about half of these people live in the city, the rest live in Single Dwellings, Thorps, Spontaneous Hamlets close to it. (The Metropolis’s Hinterland).
You may have spotted Spontaneous Hamlets in some of the descriptions earlier – but they are toy to help give the hinterland some flavour, rather than a serious investment. Sometimes a hamlet comes into being without really being owned by anyone or having any great effect on the economy. You find them in areas where there are a lot of small holdings or thorps – and the people club together to make community benefits. No one owns enough of the building to be classed as the owner, nor does anyone make enough money for it to be classed as an economic benefit, and as a type of self-help, it doesn’t win any loyalty or stability benefits – it just makes the local commoners lives a bit easier.
Some RL examples might be a village hall, a Community Shop or Bar (there are examples in the UK at present), a Communal Barn (I am sure I have read about these in the US) and Communal Brewery (I know of these making wine in Italy). In all cases the developments themselves are owner jointly by locals, there is minimal profit which is used to maintain the building or is shared out between the local ‘owners’. However, each of these Communal Developments takes up as much space as their commercial equivalent, and the same rules apply – no more than three developments and no more than size 4. There are some examples below – all of them barter or exchange goods with the locals. Visitors, of course, have to pay in good hard cash.
A tavern and shop might be a good combination for areas where many thorps are close together. The tavern provides a community centre/hub, while the shop sells those everyday things that cost less than 5gp.
A fruit producing region might have a communal brewery and a community tavern to sell the country wines they make.
A craft workshop might make a good community centre in a hilly area. Equipped with a number of looms and a couple of spinning wheels – the women meet here daily to produce woollen cloth.
A communal barn might mean that merchants pay a better price for the goods – because they can collect more at a time and don’t have to call at each smallholding.
A communally owned Trade Post could encourage merchants to visit as well as offering, goods for sale and exchange.
While visitors pay in good hard cash, locals and regulars can barter or exchange goods with the locals – and any of these developments can double as a community centre, ‘host barn’ dances or even serves as a school/nursery for the local children.
From a World Builder’s perspective – it happens. People will do things to make their lives easier – and it is much more realistic than just having a hundred faceless thorps spread about the hinterland. It adds some flavour to the environment.
From a DM’s perspective – I want somewhere for when I have adventures set in the hinterlands. If I have a thief on the run and hiding out – I have somewhere to put them. If I have a werewolf stalking the hinterlands, I have somewhere for PCs to go and ask. Basically, I can create a small ad-hoc settlement, whenever I need one – without affecting the local town.
From an RP perspective – it enables a different type of ‘Good Deed’ for Characters rather than just making a cash donation to a ‘good cause’. However, helping a community develop something for themselves could be seen from a number of perspectives. A follower of Abadar might see it as a way of promoting trade, business and self-reliance, rather than a good deed. A follower of Erastil might see it as both a good deed and a way of promoting Old Deadeye’s philosophies. A Chaotic might just see it as a good deed – or even a random deed. It also enables a different type of NPC reward – over the years I have seen any number of PCs reward NPC’s who helped them with a handful of coins or even a reasonable value gem. Now they can send some of their folk around to help with the construction of a community barn …