This is for a future D&D campaign I’ll be DMing. I want to know how a rich and charismatic leader might create his own settlement and eventually turn it into a prosperous city-state. The world is in a high middle ages tech era (with stagnant technological progress for millennia, basically like any D&D world).

Let me set the scene: The elves of this world are longed-lived (D&D style), magically-inclined, and reproduce more slowly than humans. For millennia they have been scattered across the continent, living in small isolated communities, or in human cities. However, a powerful and rich elven wizard has acquired a large territory (10,000 square miles) without any attachment to an existing political entity (but bordering several human nations). He dreams of creating a new homeland for his people, a once hopeless dream shared by many of his kind.

Let us assume that he can convince thousands to leave their old lives behind, and join him in this quest (nobles, artisans, artists, peasants...)

What are the first few steps to take, to go from wilderness, to a small settlement capable of surviving on its own?

Here are the resources available to them:

  1. The king’s magic: he can grow buildings out of natural stone and wood, so there is no need for expensive construction projects. This is in fact quite simple for him, and a home capable of housing a large family can be built in 20 days using this method. Furthermore, he can summon food and water, fend off any pillagers or invading armies... Basically, let us assume that he can sustain a small population (<700) for as long as needed using magic.

  2. The king’s network: being an ex-adventurer, who’s helped save the world before, and has ungodly charisma, he can negotiate any reasonable deal with these kingdoms (be it for trade, protection, ...)

  3. The king’s wealth: he possesses enough gold to run a small country for a few years (up to a decade). This could be used to buy anything that can’t be made with magic, to hire foreign talents, pay for services from abroad...

  4. Elven reputation: the elves are renowned for their skill as artisans, artists, mages... Elven goods are often synonymous with quality/luxury. And we can assume that some famous elven artisans could be convinced to join the cause.

  5. Sea access: I know that historically this has been big for trade, so let’s assume that this vast territory has access to the ocean.

There are however a few constraints for this:

  1. Preserving elven culture: any plan that would result in elves being overrun by non-elven migrants (and thus compromising what was meant as a new homeland), or the loss of elven culture, is not ideal. Elves and humans can reproduce, making half-elves, but such pairings are not common (elves don’t usually find humans attractive).

  2. Elves dont reproduce quickly: a generation is roughly 200 years for the elves, in a world dominated by humans (but with technology stagnant for the past few millenia). So most early growth would have to come from elven immigration.

This is my first post on here, I apologize if the format is inadequate in any manner. I would love to hear examples from real-life stories about medieval settlements, or works of fiction that describe similar experiences.

EDIT1: If you think that any more specifics would be needed for such a settlement, like geography, location relative to major nations... Feel free to assume this if it can better fit any examples you may know, I’m not dead-set on much thus far.

EDIT2: If the military implications of a powerful wizard bother you, then perhaps a defense pact with a very powerful (and nearby) nation would serve as an adequate analogy.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What have you searched on your own? There are historical examples of cities founded in the middle ages $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ IIRC, independent city states rely on having a good location just as much as anything they do. Venice wouldn't have remained independent for so long except for the city's natural defenses, and early examples like Athens and Sparta where the rule, not the exception. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ Trading is an important part of it, but it's also so they don't get conquered. A rich city-state is a tempting prize to any kingdom, and city-states usually can't field necessary armies to stop an entire country. That can be mitigated with treaties, of course, but even still. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, there's no historical precedence for wizards running city states.(unless you count Syracuse, which definitely is close but not quite there). That said, if a wizard is the equivalent of a nuclear-level deterrent, then that should work just fine. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ You need to start with a food sources, communities that get their food through trade were either satellite settlements and could not be independent OR trade cities that started with a food source that then outgrew that source. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 16:59

2 Answers 2


One of the main reasons for the creation of feudal "cities" at the beginning of the medieval period was the fear of the invasions and the decline in slaves, making it so the rich nobles built castles to protect themselves and invited peasants to work for them (and later protect them from the invaders), at the exchange of them being "stuck" to the land and giving a part of their crops to these feudal lords (it's more complex than that but this is the very basics).

Overall, though, it seems like you're more interested either into some sort of commune or a mix of the classic medieval setup and that of the ending of the medieval ages, with a reduction of the invasions and expansion of cities. As far as I understood, your character wants to be something like a feudal lord/king (since feudal cities were relatively independent despite there being a king, due to the kings being less important figures overall until the end of the medieval times, when they began gaining more importance again).

However, no matter how you look at it, the best way to ensure people will want to live in your city, based on my not-so-great knowledge about how dnd works, is defense. While in real life people feared other humans who wanted to invade them, people in dnd usually have a more lasting threat: various monsters with various intentions, most of them not exactly friendly. That means that the best way for your elf to become the leader of a prosperous kingdom will be focusing his efforts on defense.

Let's go with a few development stages:


Your elf needs to make his new kingdom a safe place one can live in. For that, I'd go with building a large Castle. Your king at this point will do something similar to what was seen in the beginning of medieval times, building a fortified castle and walling up large parts of his territory (it doesn't need to be the entirety of it, and I think you shouldn't make it too close from the sea for now). After ensuring there are fortifications, you'll need a small defense force, so I'd go with the route of the modern age kings, hiring a private mercenary army to ensure protection and your dominance over everyone's safety. You should also already build places for your soldiers to live, likely close to or even inside the castle.

2-the people

Your kingdom needs citizens besides you and the mercenaries,and safety will be your propaganda. Build some good settlements and agricultural crops and send word of your new kingdom, "hey, I've got a safe place with land to cultivate, a house to live on and an army to defend you, all I need is for you to come help me to help you". After that, you'll need to wait for some people to settle in before part 3. Additionally, I recommend you to initiate some kind of currency system to give them some buying power (buying excess crops, paying for certain services they provide you , etc).


You could likely make business before, but it will help a a lot to have citizens with buying power. Establish in your kingdom a place for unified currency, with places in which merchants can trade their money with that of neighboring cities/countries (assuming the monetary system isn't unified for the entire planet) and allow nearby merchants to use part of your abundant land (preferably close to the sea) to make fairs, granting yourself a business point with a lot of potential. After that, you'll want to wall up the nearby region to the fair as well and make it clear you're the leader, in order to avoid an independent city to appear)

4- adjustments

If everything goes well, your land should become known as a safe place for elves to live in and for merchants to trade, hopefully evolving into a successful kingdom with large commercial power. However you will need to watch out for unforeseen circumstances, such as the monsters which make part of the local fauna, potential bandits wanting to exploit your still growing kingdom, nearby lords wanting a bite of your profits, etc. What unforeseen circumstances will appear and how long it will take for your medieval fairs to become prestigious commercial points will also depend on the nearby kingdoms, the coastline of your kingdom, how common are trading sailors and other factors external to your own kingdom.

Hope this was useful to your story, my apologies if I happened to be mistaken about some part of your world or about some historical misconception I failed to notice and correct before writing this.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for giving such a detailed answer! All these points will greatly help me in designing a city. $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2020 at 17:33

Where do the elves live now? Are they welcome there? Why would they want to pack up and leave? If they have no homeland and are treated with scorn, they may leap at the chance. If they are prized, it will be more difficult. (OTOH, the elves coming in the second case would probably be passionate about elven culture.)

Geography: Here you are faced with trade offs.

You want nice natural resources, but those resources make it more attractive to the humans. (If elves can manage without metals the way humans need them, this is less important.) Farmland is important, particularly fertile and well-watered farmland. (Magic could help there, too.) A warm current in the ocean from the equator and a mountain range between you and the arctic regions would make it more farmable BUT would also make it attractive to humans.

You also want natural defenses, BUT those will also make it harder to trade. Sheer distance is a big one, especially in a medieval technology where you can't carry your food, but have to forage. Hard to pass mountains or swamps. Bodies of water tend to facilitate trade or invasion -- boats and ships are more efficient than anything on land -- but hard to navigate rivers can be impediments, and on land, if everyone has to pass the same ford to reach your land, you have a natural choke point where you can hold off invaders. Unfavorable winds could limit access by sea.

Are there religious differences between humans and elves? Are there major authorities in the religions? Because if your elven king made a large donation and the High Hierophant bless his claim, or if he went to the Oracle of the All-Wise to ask whether the location was good, and received an oracle that the All-Wise blessed his settlement, it would certainly help.

  • $\begingroup$ The elves are currently scattered across the continent in various small communities and human cities. They’re generally welcome, but they occasionally suffer some prejudice. Mostly, the elves have a strong need for community, and humans can’t fill the gap. They’re also culturally nostalgic of the time of the great elven empires, and elven lives being much slower than humans, make for awkward living in human cities. The elven gods are different than human ones, and there is no central authority for them. $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2020 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ The first will help. The second means that you've got only those in power deciding whether to seize the land. An alliance with a powerful nation would help, but you might also choose to put them somewhere where any king who tried to seize the city-state would be unbalancing the situation and face the risk that all the other kings will ally against him. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 0:30

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