Of all of the types of places you have in your world, few will be more numerous than the common village. Communities of roughly four to nine hundred people, they exist near crossroads, water sources, and natural resources. Some will eventually grow into towns and some will dwindle away into a collection of abandoned, overgrown, buildings and others may simply exist for centuries as they are.

One of the hardest things in running a game is to make common things distinct and memorable and have people and places make an impression with the players. Not every place needs to do that, of course, but it’s always nice when you mention a name of a village, you see blank faces, and then someone says ‘Oh yeah, where Baclan lives!’ and everyone’s face lights up with recognition.

The Basics – The Places

In the era in which fantasy games are run, there is no refrigeration, fast transportation of goods or any modern conveniences whatsoever. This is obvious, of course, but what it means is that almost everything perishable for daily life has to be brought to market (if not sold directly from the source), wait to be sold, brought back to the buyer’s place, and used before it spoiled. Generally, this isn’t a concern, but if you’re laying out a region, say around a castle or city, you may want to keep this in mind.

Everyone needs to eat, so there’s a lot of farms. They likely grow a little bit of everything, have a variety of livestock so that they can have their own supply of food and then extra to sell. The proximity of your village to a large town or city may affect just how many farms there are, how big they are, or both. The reason for this is that such towns and cities will need to import most of their food from nearby farmers. Some farmers will specialize in something, whether it’s a certain type of livestock or specific crop, that’s up to you. You don’t have to really make a point about trying to figure everything out but if you want, you can have your party ride past a spacious fenced-in area of sparse forest and see several sizeable hogs fattening themselves up, and then meet Grick, the pig farmer as you pass his barn.

Like food, everyone needs water, so put a few central locations. Many farms will also have their own so if you’re detailing a specific farm then add one in. Unlike in larger communities, the water in a village is probably reasonably clean and safe to drink, especially if the townsfolks have a druid or wizard/sage advising them to have the tanner and other such businesses downstream from the village or on the fringe of the community.

Various shops and laborers will be in a village as well. Weavers/seamstresses, leatherworkers, tanners, ropemakers, smiths, sawmills, cart makers – all may be in a village but each village may not have everything. For some things, your players might hear ‘Nay, ye need to visit Alzid over in Baer’s Crossing east of here. She’s on the far side of town, mind ye’.

There’s going to be at least one tavern, probably two or three depending on how spread out the village is, and likely an inn as well. The inn will likely be along the main road going through town to be easily accessible to travelers passing through. Each of these locations is a possible location for you to put a community board for quests, rumors, etc.  It’s up to you if each of these has their own brewer or not. It’s also possible there is at least one independent brewer in town. In the Real World, many brewers in the medieval period were women (hence the word alewife), so these brewers may be the wife of someone else or a single woman making her own way in your world. Similarly, you can add a distiller or even a vintner to your village. You might also add a cooper to the village to provide containers for the beverages, rain water, nails, etc.

Many villages have a larger building or two in the center of town that can be used for different purposes throughout the year. For instance, a sizeable room could be used for festivals, parties, or village meetings but also for group protection in a weather emergency or goblinoid invasion.  Smaller rooms in the same building could be used by village elders for basic government functions. If the geography allows for basements to be dug out, that could hold emergency food or equipment stores, maybe even a jail cell or two. These types of buildings are also possible locations for a community board.

Also in the center, you may find some fields set aside for mutual grazing, often called ‘commons’, one of the previously mentioned wells should be located here if you add them.

Other miscellaneous buildings that might be found in a village is a granary to store community food, mills (water, wind or both), or shrines to various beings or forces.

Next up: What’s in a Village? The Basics – The people
A look at the people you might consider putting in your village to help it come to life.