Q – Quarters
Cities have different divisions or districts. How does this affect the layout of the city?
In March, 2014 I published an article on districts or quarters of a city. That thread had someone ask me for my research, so I posted the links from my research.
While following a chain of Wikipedia articles, I found reference to the Fatih district of Istanbul, which covers the same area as 23 districts of ancient Constantinople. Only 5 of those districts have articles in Wikipedia at the time of this writing. The Walls of Constantinople are interesting, in that much of them still exist today. Some of the districts were near harbors and other fairly clear cut divisions of the city.
Quarters usually mark some sort of functional/rational division of the city. For example, referring to the area of the original or oldest boundaries of the city as the old city. Often the old city features some sort of fortified area, such as a citadel, acropolis, or medina. Naming the district by some feature, such as wall district, for the part of the city near a wall or a more significant wall, such as the oldest or biggest wall. Similar district names could be harbor district, tower district, temple district, gate district, etc.
Today, in the USA, most cities and towns refer to their business district that contains the majority of their businesses. In a fantasy setting, this might be the merchant district, caravan district, trade district, etc. Such a district might be further divided into areas with concentrations of the same or similar trades, such as The Way of Smiths, that might contain blacksmiths, goldsmiths, locksmiths, armorers, etc. Certain businesses occupations might be limited to a specific area of the city, and might further be limited to certain classes/casts/races. The red light district is usually reserved for other than the well to do areas of a city, yet there have tended to be high class prostitutes serving the rich. One group of trades/industries grouped together would be “stinker,” that is, those trades that have an odor, such as tanneries for leather makers, fish markets, stockyards, etc. The district(s) with an odoriferous byproduct would tend to be in an area lower than or downwind of the upper class area(s) of the city.
Low city and high city might refer to the topography of the city, and can usually refer to the economical and/or social status differences of their respective populations.
Other districts might be named based on their predominate populations, such as the foreigners district. Would the different groups of humans in your world be physically different in some way, or only culturally different? Would this rise to the same level of animosity that we see in our own world? Would other fantasy races be lumped into a non-human district, divided into each non-human race, like elves, dwarves, gnomes, and halflings?
Does or did slavery exist in your world? Is slavery more akin to antiquity, where some or all slaves had certain rights and could somehow expect to return to freedom? Or is it more like more recent examples of slavery, where slaves are absolutely property to the point that their descendants are slaves, and their treatment varies by who their masters and overseers are? Would there be state slaves doing the work projects of the state? Would slaves be limited to conquered peoples, i.e. war prisoners, or criminals? What kinds of crimes would relegate one to slavery? Would all nations keep slaves, or only the most “primitive”, “evil”, or some such? Would slavery be such that even predominately good nations have slaves? (I sense another article is needed….)
When designing your own cities you can use as many districts as you want, and name them after whatever best suits your needs/desires. Will all your cities have the same districts? I can see cities of the same nation/cultural group having similar divisions to their cities. For example, Alexander the Great spread the Greek ideals of cities to the areas he conquered. The Romans built arenas, hippodromes, temples, and other features of their native Italian cities in the cities of the territories they conquered, whether new or existing cities.
Midkemia Press has three free PDFs of things related to cities, one is a sample of their Cities Book. Both The Cities and The City of Carse are available in PDF for a total of $9.00. I have the Cities Sampler, and just ordered Cities and The City of Carse, and received them the same day via email. I will do a write up, after I read the PDFs. They have one page on the City of Carse Bazaar.
Historically, ancient cities had 3 to five districts, Paris has 18 districts. The old city with some sort of fortification feature, government quarters, lower/upper town, old town/city, and royal quarter, are common. In ancient Alexandria, and many old cities, each new king would often build new palaces, so that the royal quarter was huge. The Gymnasium quarter had the race course and was the largest division of the city, but a lower population density. In Byzantium, chariot racing was a big deal, much like professional sports today. The blue and green teams got in a major riot where thousands were killed and a large part of the city burned.
Burned cities. If a city had enough wood or other flammable construction to burn, after such destruction, the re-built city would either be built of less flammable materials, like ancient Rome in the time of Nero, and/or institute building codes and rules to minimize the chance of another conflagration, as in Chicago after the 1870 fire. Some poorer areas of cities might burn, being of flammable materials, or not well built, or not built to minimize the spread of fire. This could leave the rest of a city relatively untouched by fire.
The poorest of the poor might live in slums built from the scraps and refuse from the rest of the city, most likely outside the city proper, and outside the walls. In modern times, the poorest build on or next to the dump, building huts out of scraps of wood, cardboard, and plastic, and furnished with the same. Such districts would easily be wiped out by fire. Often these fires are set by authorities to force out these “undesirables.” Do your game cities feature this level of verisimilitude?
Table ideas for generating city quarters/districts:
- Temple quarter
- Wizard quarter
- Royal & Noble quarter
- Government/Bureaucracy quarter
- Merchant’s quarter – Markets or Bazaars
- Non-human quarter (for areas where they don’t just mingle right in)
- Warehouse District
- Thieve’s quarter
- Necropolis/Graveyard (Necromancer’s quarter)
- Arena/entertainment quarter.
- Aqueducts, sewers, water towers, wells, catacombs
- Smithees and leatherworkers (stinkers)
- Slave pens/auctions
- Gallows, Stocks, and Gibbets
Number of Quarters
Pick a die for the highest number of quarters you want to deal with, if you want other than the usual 3 to 5 divisions, like most historical cities.
Divisions (Most activity in a city can be grouped under the following. See district ideas above for specifics.)
- Death (gallows, cemetery)
- Entertainment (arena, race track, etc.)
- Moderate/Middle Class
These often incorporate aspects of the surrounding area, like Way of Smiths, Temple Plaza, or Avenue or Boulevard of Temples.
Mix in an occupation, specifically or generally, building type, race type, etc.
- Field (Like Elysian Fields, AKA Champs Elysees)
- High Road = main road
- Low Road = secondary road
Types of Roads – see tomorrow’s post.
Predominate Building Materials of District
- Earth/Mud/Cob/Adobe/Sun Dried Bricks
- Wood – Logs or milled lumber
- Fired Bricks
- Stone – Unfinished or Finished
- Thatch – Would not do well in a city environment. Better suited to rural environments with less proximity and thus less chance of fire spreading.
- Wood – Shakes/Singles, Logs, Milled Lumber
- Slate or other flat stone
- Ceramic tiles
A helpful set of all the dice tables for generating neighborhoods in a city can be found on pages 10 & 11 of the Winter 2014 Vol. #1 of the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad zine. Thanks to +Adam Muszkiewicz personally putting this in my hands from +Roy Snyder’s display at Marmalade Dog 20 back in February. You can get this issue for PWYW at RPGNow. Adam and I share a fondness for all the dice tables.