My world is, at a very high level, well populated. That being said, my focus has been on certain cities relevant to my story. These cities are detailed; they have government structures, leadership (people), armies/guards, cultural identity, racial make-up and more - essentially, they are completely fleshed-out.

Now, the surrounding world exists, cities are on the map, they have names and may be part of larger nation entities, but beyond that they are very hazy.

I frankly don't want to take the time to create an incredibly detailed back story, but I find that in my effort to set a grander international socio-political climate and conflict, I need to know how different entities would react to certain situations.

Question: Does anyone have a method for rapidly setting traits for cities and/or nations?

Traits I would like included in this process:

  • Government type
  • Racial tolerance (fantasy setting with elves dwarves humans etc)
  • Culture
  • Predisposition towards magic
  • Leader Style/Method
  • Economy type
  • Military (standing/militia/guard only)

I am sure there are more traits that will come to mind but that list should be good to start with.

An additional note:

  • Cities that are geographically (or politically, i.e. part of a nation) near one-another should be biased toward having a similar setup (bias yes, but not impossible for them to be very different)

Details of my world:

  • Medieval technology
  • Magic exists, but is an 'underground' practice and is generally frowned upon
  • Races include Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes. No races are monolithic; the world is often tribal
  • History is mixed on racial relations, sometimes humans and elves like each other . . . but there was that one World War that sunk a continent back in the day. . .
  • $\begingroup$ Depends on how much you actually want to control these things. If you want the interactions between nations, and the ability for nations to co-exist right next door without being in constant war...then you're going to have to figure this out by hand, and it will be a bit more complex. If you are okay with allowing an RNG to make decisions for you, you can set Spreadsheets up to produce random results from a list. Or just make dice-rolling tables like a Tabletop DM might use. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2015 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ Are you looking for a layout/template like this? : forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/Thay $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Sep 2, 2015 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ @guildsbounty that's why I am looking for a system that is random, but with bias. So of 12 cities in a nation maybe 2 don't quite look like the rest. This helps the history write itself too...maybe they were conquests once upon a time, leads to conflict, thats good! $\endgroup$
    – James
    Sep 2, 2015 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ @James yeah...I don't think a program to do that exists yet...or, at least, I have never found one. It's probably something that would have to be specially made for that exact purpose. Putting on my programmer hat for a minute, what you are asking for is definitely possible...but complicated both to program, and to configure for each use. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2015 at 19:25

3 Answers 3



I've generally viewed local government as a reflection of the government of the nation-state as a whole. For example, take medieval Europe. The feudal system allowed a caste of nobles who answered to the king to unilaterally rule over their lands and the people who lived in them. Major cities were the strongholds of the nobles; you could say that they were mayors with additional power, both in the cities and the lands around.

However, if you replaced the monarchy with a republic, then there would be a different system of government in the cities. Now the power is in the hands of the people, and they can rise up. They elect representatives who are against the nobility caste, and the nobles are overthrown, replaced by relatively impotent mayors or, more likely, councils made up of wealthy landowners (in this example medieval society). Alternatively, you could just chuck this system into place form the start, but that assumes a certain political evolution that somehow avoided a monarchy.

Your society is at a medieval technological level (by a coincidence; I wrote this part before seeing the edit), so it makes sense that a peasant/lord society will develop - a system of feudalism. The economic, political, and medieval power rests in the hands of the nobility, and so I would wager that you would have a stereotypical medieval political system. A larger monarchy might develop from warring kingdoms.

The one thing here that might change that is the fact that you have multiple races. If Tolkien is any indication of reality (and in this case, I think he is), this kind of one-case rulers will not gibe well with the different races. Each one will want to rule itself, probably because each race developed independently. This could make for an augmented nobility - more nobles representing different races - which eventually evolves into some sort of council, with nobles representing each race. The transition to a republic is already happening.

Racial tolerance

I made the assumption above that the races evolved and developed independently of one another. I'll hold this assumption to remain true throughout the rest of the answer. There is nothing on Earth to back it up, but some logic should support it.

You mention a World War. This world is currently at a medieval technology level, so I'm currently imagining a disaster beyond all known proportions setting the world back in time technologically (and economically, culturally, etc.). That would involve massive devastation - hell, they sunk an entire continent! That type of thing is not easily forgiven. If I was to write a faux history book about that war, I would write one passage like this:

Sergeant Heysha would never forget the final mission. As the plane sank low over Valinshek, its engines screaming, the dirge mixed with the sound of thousands - no, millions upon millions upon millions - of anguished souls screaming out for mercy. The explosions were deafening, as the rest of the squadrons continued on with their runs. But Heysha's plane had been hit and hit hard, and it flew low over the edge of the once-peaceful forest, now scarred by fire and acid. The world was spinning - no that was the plane. Or was it? He looked back over his shoulder at Loujik, the land of the snow-elves, and saw a crack in the Earth open up. The screaming seemed to get louder and louder, and the ground rushed up to greet him, as Loujik seemed to disappear under the smoke and clouds and dust and fire.

The blackness swallowed him, and the pain, when he hit the ground, was as deafening as the screams.

That kind of thing - genocide on a massive scale, because destroying a continent will typically kill a lot of people - will not be forgiven easily. I find it hard to believe that there will be peace between the races for some time. Although your story may be set far enough in the future that the hatred has dissipated. A date for the war could help gauge how much still remains.

But races living together in cities? That seems rather tough.


Culture is a tricky thing to define, and it is what always seems to stump me. It encompasses so much - so many years and so many people. I'll give it a go, though.

  • Religion. This could go in a lot of different directions. I can see monotheism taking root, although there might be some bias in there because of its grip on the world today. The idea of a king bowing to a god and serving that god - and thereby his people, in an attempt to make the populace support him, and be even more subservient - is one that I always find tempting in a society like this.

    There needs to be some religion, at the very least. The lives of most will be crappy, and they'll want to believe that there is something good in the future. You really need religion for that to happen.

  • Art. Art might circle around religion and religious ideas (unless you take aniconism into account). In fact, I would call it a likely development path (although again, there is some bias).

  • Music. Who doesn't like a good medieval tale? It might not be as silly as the tale of Sir Robin, but it might be story-centered. Story songs are, in general, my favorites in this type of society. They can be used to venerate kings and nobles, too, and their deeds.


You say that magic is generally frowned upon. That's an interesting scenario because I would bet anything that even if, officially, magic should not be used, you can bet the farm that all the leaders will want to use it. Will it give them an advantage in battle? I would assume so. That means that they'll want it, and they'll want to use it better than anyone else. It will all be very hush-hush, though.

Who has the magic, though. Is it one of the species, members of all races? Who in particular gets it - all members of a race, or just some? These may play big roles in inter-race relations. If the elves have magic, then you can bet anything that some gnomes will want them on their side when fighting other gnomes.

That said, there's always the trope of people fearing magic and those who have it. 'Who's the weirdo with the wand?' 'I don't know, but he's a real creep. Don't go near him.' This could happen on an individual level or a race-to-race level.

This is even further complicated by the possibility that magic was used in the past. Was it used by Heysha's superiors to sink Loujik? If so, then the people who knew those who lived there (the snow-elves) will not want to associate with anyone who has this magic. After all, it killed most of (if not an entire) race!


I think this goes along pretty much with the government, but I suppose I can talk about the way the leader(s) behave(s). After all, in his heyday, Hitler behaved differently than present-day Fidel Castro, even though both had/have quite a lot of power.

In this feudal-ish society, I would expect that the rallying cry would be around the king, and it would be emphasized that people have a "duty" to help him, as he is their lord. It might focus on loyalty, and simply that. The peasants have negligible power, so it's not as if they need to be quelled or suppressed (yet!).


I've so far stuck to the feudal system and the associated economic structure, and I see no reason to deviate from it now. We can stick with the peasants/nobles power structure, which comes down to the majority of people being fairly poor and farming or working in the fields for the few rich folk.

The major trade hubs will be cities (of course!), where merchants, artisans, and skilled tradespeople will make their homes. Inter-city trade will fall into the hands of the merchants, as most people will probably not go too far from their homes, being fairly powerless.

The nobles will want to protect themselves, so I anticipate a fair amount of technological development being devoted to the military (hey, that's just like today!). Better crossbows, guns, battering rams, and the like will be needed, and so there will be a thriving market for them. The tradespeople who can make them will gain some economic (and perhaps political) standing.

Whatever you choose, though, make sure that the cities are the trading hubs. There won't be much infrastructure outside of city-city trading routes, so the people will have to go to the cities in order to get goods.


Who has the power in this scenario? The king and the nobles. Therefore, they also hold control of the military. On a large scale, things can get complicated. On a small scale, they're easier to predict.

Each city will likely have:

  • A guard positioned around the perimeter. I'm envisioning castle-like fortifications, which means guards on the ground and higher up on the walls. These guards will search any suspicions persons from the outside.
  • A pseudo-police force that reports to the noble(s) in charge. They will arrest people that break any laws in place, and possibly go for political enemies, as well.
  • A small-scale militia, with the noble(s) at its head. This will be responsible for attacking other cities and defending the city when it is under attack. They may also be deployed to the surrounding lands, but it is also likely that there will be a separate force for that.

The noble(s) will be the ultimate commanders of all of these groups.

  • $\begingroup$ For reference they killed each other...both sides were pawns, blah blah blah, BAM! continent sinks. On a positive note the war ended, on a negative note it is because everyone died... $\endgroup$
    – James
    Sep 2, 2015 at 15:45
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "Major cities were the strongholds of the nobles" - not necessarily. There are counterexamples where the nobles ruled the countryside (castles and the villages belonging to the castles) but the towns were ruled by guilds, and the lords had almost no authority there. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Sep 2, 2015 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ @vsz True, but I would argue that this model is more likely. Power will be consolidated where there are more people. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Sep 2, 2015 at 16:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 having both can make things interesting as well, different nations work in different ways $\endgroup$
    – James
    Sep 3, 2015 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @James That's a good point; I hadn't considered mixing it up like that. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Sep 3, 2015 at 15:49

Setting traits for cities and towns

General things to keep in mind:

  • Humans love to clump together with people similar to themselves. Other races may have different preferences but any kind of social creature will want to be near other of its kind.
  • The rate of change is greater in larger cities. This applies to technology, government, fashion, etc.
  • You will need to figure out the culture of your main cities and the culture of your smallest town. All of the surrounding cities will fall somewhere along that spectrum with minor variations. (It is, of course, overly simplistic to say there is only one small-town culture. Adapt as needed.)
  • Working out the interdependencies between traits before you start the below process will help eliminate rework considerably. For example, race, language and culture are all tightly integrated with each other. Predisposition towards magic and leadership style are less tightly correlated.
  • The distribution of each trait isn't necessarily linear between the two destinations. Exponential distributions are also possible.
  • Some traits can be modeled as continuous, such as preferences for/against magic, racial tolerance or culture. Some traits, such as government type, are better modeled as stepwise functions.

General Process

  1. Layout a map of your country/nation. The more geographically accurate it is, the better.
  2. Start with your capital city then draw lines out to the various major cities and towns. Based on the speed of travel/communication, draw tick marks indicating a day or weeks travel. The farther away from a major city a small town becomes the more backward it becomes.
  3. Make an ordered list of the traits that you want to map. The first item on the list should be the most basic trait, such as culture because many other traits depend on the culture of a place. Group similar traits together such as government and military because these will depend strong on each other.
  4. Take a trait you want to map then walk each line drawn in step 2. These lines assume a distribution from Big-City characteristic to Little-Town characteristic. Distributions aren't always continuous such as language use at a border. One side may speak fluent Elvish while the other may speak Human Standard with very little overlap between the two.
  5. Repeat step 3 for each trait you want to map. After a few iterations, you should have a pretty detailed map without too much work.
  • $\begingroup$ Humans love to clump together with people similar to themselves... if they have a good supply and sewer system $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Sep 2, 2015 at 19:55

HDE and Green have provided ways to create detailed societies, so I'll present the simple method.

  1. Create a list of traits.

    Write down all the major traits you want to define for a given society. You've provided a number of examples already.

  2. For each trait, create a list of possibilities.

    For example, under Government Type, you can put Representative Democracy, Dictatorship, Constitutional Monarchy, etc. Number each entry from 1 to N.

    For weighting, instead of using 1 to N, assign ranges to each entry. For example: Representative Democracy (01-09), Dictatorship (10-35), Constitutional Monarchy (36-40), etc. The greater the range, the higher the bias will be towards that entry.

  3. Use a randomizer.

    From here, you can just roll dice, use a random number generator, or any other nondeterministic method. If you're so inclined (and proficient in software development), you could write a small program to do this for you, which would greatly speed up the process in the future.

  4. Tweak.

    If you don't like the results from Step 3, feel free to alter them slightly or simply perform Step 3 again. At this point, you can also adjust results for adjacent regions so they have some traits in alignment.

  • $\begingroup$ This is similar to what I would recommend, though if you could add a way to manage the bias I want better (without manual intervention each time) that would be awesome. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Sep 2, 2015 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ @James Well, if you want to eliminate bias...you just need a smarter program to handle the RNG. Something where you can weight certain traits, and have it track the results of prior 'saved' generated locations, and be able to tell the program which locations are adjacent. You could set for positive or negative weighting (where certain traits are likely to be similar in nearby locations...and others are likely to be different in nearby locations). And, if you wanted variety, you could have it negatively weight traits the more often they were randomly selected... $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2015 at 15:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you want something that has no weighting, but spits out random results...have a look here: chaoticshiny.com/civgen.php $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2015 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @James See my edit for a weighted determination. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Sep 2, 2015 at 16:12

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