A series of articles about a few things that can add a little more depth to RPGs


Hello everyone! I received some pretty good feedback from the first article regarding the NPC and a lot of constructive stuff as well so I'm going to continue with this series of articles with part 2, the adding depth in the town environment. A lot of the comments I received in the last article were regarding the amount of stuff I did or didn't cover so I'm going to stress again that this is going to be a serial article--therefore some things will have a lot of cross over or detail that can't be covered in a single article.

I'd love to write a super long article about adding depth to every single aspect of your game, but half the community might just TL;DR through it and leave exactly that comment (someone will probably leave that comment for this article out of spite anyway). So if there's something I don't cover in this article that you feel needed to be covered, it will probably be in an upcoming part.

So let's carry on!


The town is typically the next most important part of creating a game. Between all that adventuring time and monster killing and whatnot, chances are a player will be spending a lot of time in towns to progress the story. Most times whenever a player arrives in a new town in a typical RPG, there will be new people with information to move the story along as well as new events that become sparked in town. Most quests begin in towns and to make the player feel a little more immersed in the feeling of these bustling hubs, I have a few suggestions and ideas.

The first question that should be addressed is "What importance will this town have on my game?" That being said, the answers should usually be "It is where a new character will join my party" or "Someone in town will give me information that will help me move the story along" or "It's one of my characters' hometowns and will therefore be a place where I learn a little more about them" or something of the matter. Regardless of what answer you come up with, it should never be arbitrary. A town should not be placed on the world map simply to have something there to fill up space. If you're worried about aesthetics then wait until my World Design article.

After answering the question, you should begin to build the map of the town. The next step is to decide what kind of town it will be. Now I won't be getting into history/civics until a later article but in order to make a town feel alive there should be a little bit of history behind.

Is it a port town where the commercial fishing is driving the economy? Is it a colonial town that pays taxes to a mother kingdom? Is it an industrial town that produces weapons? Towns all have their histories and having something going on in the background allows the player to feel like this thing is pretty believable. Take a look at your own hometown/city. Walk around downtown and see what it's like.

I personally live in a city that's considered one of the furniture capitals of the world. A lot of companies in the area produce furniture. We even have a furniture museum. There is also river access nearby and remnants of a logging factory upriver where they produced the lumber necessary for the furniture. Do you see those small details that you can pull from having a small piece of history in mind? I was able to give myself a small blueprint of a city. That's not even all of what you can do!

Remember that there are people involved in a town and some will be workers, some will be homeless, some may be law enforcement, and some may be criminals. That's where your NPC placement and design comes in. NPCs roaming your towns should serve the purpose of the game, first and foremost and that's done by serving the town. Ever NPC that you place into the town should make sense with what the town does. For instance, there's a very little chance that you will find an African Tribal leader in the big city with shopping bags just like there's a little chance you'd find a stuck up business man out in the sticks trying to survive.

Try putting a few NPCs fishing along the water or moving around in a shop trying to buy things. Make sure to put workers in the factories and a foreman to oversee them. If there's a bar, make sure that some of the drinkers there are people who have just gotten off work. Just remember that wherever you place your NPCs they should always have a purpose. Unless of course you're going for comedy or something and want to put an alien in the middle of the street, that's cool too.


When designing a town, there's a big of logic to it. Ever try looking at a map for your hometown? There's a certain amount of thought that's put into the locations of buildings and homes along with the accommodation that has to be made with the existing nature. Remember, before towns existed, there was nature.

The Romans were historically one of the first peoples to actually plan out their cities. They used a grid system to determine their roads and building placement, making sure that their forum (town square/center place for all of their city's economy) was the center of it all. Even for small towns in this day and age, that system is being used. The sleepy little towns with one main street all still ascribe to the grid system.

Logically speaking, you could divide almost any town into districts. Think of it in four basic districts: residential, commercial, industrial, and entertainment. That being said, the industrial district usually sits on the outskirts of town to prevent pollution from the factories from bothering the people in the majority of the city. The entertainment district is usually near the commercial district and generally away from the residential district (is there anyone who can walk to the night club from where they live?). Now it doesn't always turn out like this and that's not to say that there's some crossover either.

I've seen people who have apartments that overlook shops so that's a combination of residential and commercial. I've seen bars that are right by factories (it's easier on those guys who want to drink right after work). It's up to you and how you want to make your town. Just remember that randomly placing buildings on a map doesn't make it a town. Sometimes you will see nomadic towns in games. People who move around with work or the seasons will tend to just set up camp wherever and so they won't always conform to the rules of a regular town. But that is also an aspect of deciding what kind of town it is.


Fundamentally, most towns aren't dead (unless they're ghost towns). Generally people use some nifty background music to try and get the player in the mood. I can't stress enough the importance of choosing the right music for the right town. Don't choose upbeat music for a town suffering an economic depression and don't choose depressing music for a bustling, lively town.

Don't forget the sound effects either! Remember that there are people walking around and talking. There's a lot of foley going on there (sound effects art). Crowds of people generally make the sound of a lot of people talking, construction sounds are generally hammering and sawing and jackhammers. Also bear in mind that birds are flying over head or are in the street. These are great sources of sound to bring your RPG world to life.

Then there's lighting and overlays like smog you can put on the screen at 40% opacity to indicate a factory nearby or mist from a nearby body of water. And don't forget that the weather changes so there may be rain and fog. Don't overlook the small aspects! Just like each other aspect of your game, each of your towns should have the same amount of effort put into them to be consistent. Don't forget that the player will lose the illusion created by an awesome town if they go on the journey and find that the next town isn't on the same par of immersion. Even if two towns are on different ends of the spectrum that doesn't make them any less alive from one another, just different in terms of atmosphere.

I hope I didn't forget anything and like always, leave your comments! I'll address any criticisms as logically as possible and I always appreciate the compliments. Joke comments are appreciated as well.

Until next time!


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Make your dungeon first, then make your town, then populate it with NPCs that inform you about your dungeon or items you will need. Make the town explorable and make the NPCs quirky.
So I just read this through again and realized that there are a few typos and such. Please don't take my ineptitude in editing the wrong way. I typed this article up in the whole of fifteen minutes. For now I just hope everyone can understand my thought process.
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