More specifically, given that you have to accommodate creatures that can be anything between 2 and 21 feet tall, and you want all these creatures to have accommodations such as inns or houses, and also be able to trade and mingle with each other (perhaps in bars, stores, or plazas)?

Background: I am in a Pathfinder game (Tabletop RPG, D&D-like) and our group is setting up what is essentially a federation of allied tribes who have access to mostly stone-age tech and only recently have been exposed to medieval-level tech. We are planning a city where our allies can trade, mingle, and plan future wars together. However, when the Storm Giants joined ("Adults are typically 21 feet tall and weigh 12,000 pounds.") we realized we have a logistical problem. The game master later joked that it'll get worse when we have Pixies ("Most pixies stand just over 2 feet tall and weigh about 30 pounds and can fly"), but I took that as a dire warning.

A regularly constructed city that's normal for humans would be... Sub-optimal to say the least, however I have very few ideas on how to plan a city that could make this work - my best one so far is simply "Tall buildings, big doors with smaller ones built into them".

I could really use some advice on the matter!

Keep in mind that this uses Pathfinder rules for magic (they are easy enough to find online), so any solution or planning that involves magic is acceptable as long as it doesn't require an army of wizards casting powerful spells continuously.

  • $\begingroup$ And while I'm at it, picking tags for this one was hard. If someone could edit in more fitting ones, I'll appreciate it! $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ See ZooTopia $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 1:35

7 Answers 7


Have you played Tetris?

From your question, it sounds like the differently-sized groups (mostly) get along with each other, and would be expected to co-mingle. If this weren't the case, a (practical, not socio-political) segregation would allow you to simply construct separate districts for each size group. (The giants district has big buildings, pixies have smaller buildings, perhaps at least with larger lobbies so there's room for a giant or two to come for a meeting.)

However, if they co-mingle and co-habitate, your suggestion:

Tall buildings, big doors with smaller ones built into them

... is already a reasonable approach. Even with magic, building smaller rooms/buildings is easier (and probably cheaper) than building larger ones, and if you have limited real-estate as well, that compounds the problem.

Have you played Tetris?

Let's use the Inn as an example. You obviously need a front door, lobby, and common areas that can accommodate all sizes. That means you build that part giant-sized, of course. From there, however, you can build the individual rooms of varying sizes.

Public buildings like a town hall would need to be giant-sized. Having one small and one large door would indeed make sense. 2ft fairies could probably open a human-sized door without undue effort, so you don't need a different door for everyone.

The trick to making it all space-efficient is to only build as many "giant" areas as you need to, to accommodate the number of giants that will need to access any area at once. Giants are the limiting factor; it will be relatively easy to pack in the accommodations for the smaller species once the giants are settled.

Keep in mind also that giants can probably sit or stand on the 1st floor and talk to people on the 2nd floor, so you could have common areas with "open" designs that give the giants some multi-floor headroom while still providing a 2nd floor around the edges of the room for the shorter patrons.

  • $\begingroup$ What does Tetris have to do with it? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 4:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Tetris (the immensely popular puzzle game) involves efficiently packing differently-shaped pieces into a fixed area. A similar kind of skill would be useful in designing a city/building with differently-shaped (giant vs. pixie) rooms in an efficient layout. That, and I figured it might get a chuckle. :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ It's true that giants are the limiting factor, but this doesn't only relate to height of ceilings etc. You also have to take serious precautions against the biggest creatures trampling or sitting on the smallest. For human-only architecture a big concourse where everyone circulates at random is fine, because collisions don't matter much. In your species-diverse city a giant bumping into a pixie probably kills the pixie. So you need "traffic management" in all shared spaces, especially spaces where people were moving. There would need to be boundaries marked [more in next comment] $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ [continued from previous] between the lanes. These could be ropes or lines painted on the ground, which works for our motorways, or you could use a little magic to put glowing lines in space. Maybe you could also use similar lane-marking magic to stop flying pixies causing chaos. The good thing about pixies being able to fly is that they can use that to avoid being trampled; have doors for them above giant head height and so on. Maybe the people needing protection from clumsy giants are not pixies but middle-sized non-flying folk like dwarves, elves and humans. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 9:31
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    $\begingroup$ @type_outcast, your comparison with domestic animals did give me pause for thought. You are right, it's a real life version of interactions between different sized species. But small animal-human interactions take place between small numbers of humans and pets in their own mutual home, a space both are familiar with. Even so, collisions do sometimes have sad results. A friend of mine - nope, not going to talk about that. If you put a rabbit on the concourse of a busy station at rush hour its chances wouldn't be good. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 21:14

I won't talk about the small-scale structure of buildings, since the answer by type_outcast has that well-covered. However, I will mention the feasibility issues in constructing buildings suitable for a variety of creatures. The height of the giants is the limiting factor. The minimum height of a ceiling should be such that if the largest person likely to enter a building raised their hands, they wouldn't touch the ceiling. Otherwise, the construction may well feel cramped. Of course, grander buildings are often significantly taller than this criterion would suggest. Storm giant adults are typically 21 feet tall. If their heights follow a roughly Gaussian distribution, as is the case with humans, and we assume that the standard deviation is simply scaled up with the mean, then storm giants who are 23 feet tall are feasible within a modestly sized population. Regardless, a Huge bipedal creature is assumed to be able to reach 32 feet without jumping.

So we see that a ceiling must be 32 feet high, merely to prevent storm giants from brushing the ceiling when they reach up and stretch. The best bet for constructing ceilings this high is stone. However, your technology is barely coming out of the Stone Age! You might have trouble making reliable ceilings 32 feet tall or higher with technology alone.

You're a wizard, prospective architect

Fortunately, you have magic. The best bet is the Moaning Diamond. Yes, this is a major artifact, but it is truly powerful. It can reshape 5,000 cubic feet of stone (or earth for that matter) three times per day. With a decent knowledge of engineering (or some trial and error), quite high stone ceilings are plausible. Let's say that you make the walls 9 feet thick (like Notre Dame). Of course, this will only be at the base, and is certainly excessive, but it serves as an upper bound. Then a 555 square foot area can be constructed each day from the underlying stone, which in a mere ten days would allow the construction of a cubic stone building 52 feet on a side. Obviously, the building could be even larger, since the stone would be much thinner at the top, and 9 feet, even at the base, is very thick indeed (Notre Dame is about 100 feet tall under the vault, far larger than the minimum needed by our giants). But the point is, with such powerful magic, an area with a great deal of underlying stone, and the insane intelligence of a high-level wizard or such, the construction of giant-size buildings would be child's play.

There are other techniques, of course. Stone shape is a weaker alternative to the Moaning Diamond, which at level 20 can reshape 30 cubic feet per use. A cleric with the Earth domain can theoretically cast this spell 35 times per day, which comes to 1050 cubic feet of stone per day. This is about one-fifteenth the strength of the Moaning Diamond, but a building of the sort mentioned before could be crafted in about 150 days, which is not all that bad. Keep in mind, though, that this is a single building that a storm giant might find comfortable, and it requires a powerful cleric to lock up all their high-level spell slots for months on end building it. If the cleric wanted to be prepared for their enemies, or minister to the sick, the construction could take a year or more.

One should note storm giants around could vastly simplify any large projects, due to their height and prodigious strength. However, the basic architectural issues would still exist, and would likely better be solved by stone-shaping.

But wait! There's more....

There is even a construction method perhaps even more potent than the Moaning Diamond: polymorph any object. Suppose a 20th-level sorcerer or wizard transmutes a nonliving mineral object of up to 2000 cubic feet into something (a) the same size, (b) also a mineral, and (c) as a mineral, of the same Intelligence (0). This transmutation will then be permanent, allowing a caster to (for example) create iron reinforcements in a wall created with stone shape, or glass windows, or indeed metal doors. It is probably wise to require that only contiguous, firmly bound "objects" (which also rules out fluids of any sort) be affected by polymorph any object, so as to avoid players turning the ground beneath their enemies' feet to polonium or something. After all, transmute rock to mud is one thing--transmute rock to plasma is quite another. In this case, of course, the stone will need to be moved away from the portion to be transmuted, and the portion held in place by telekinesis or such while it is transmuted, and then the stone sculpted back in. Nonetheless, the potential for extremely sturdy buildings is there.

Pixie condominiums

Building for pixies is barely harder than building for giants. Pixies may not have the strength to construct houses easily from the inside, and humans (let alone giants) would lack the ability to construct such fine structures. However, a sufficiently powerful wizard-architect could build a scale model. It would have to be less than 40 cubic feet, because of certain spell limitations. This is large enough to construct details like doors and such with stone shape, or simply to add them manually, while small enough that quite a lot of artistry (whether magical or mundane) could be applied. Then, boom! Permanent shrink item, and stick the pixie apartment into the pixie condominium. Stone shape them together. Rinse and repeat.

So the gist of this is that although Stone Age communities would have trouble building habitations large enough for giants, or small enough for pixies, a single powerful spellcaster, or anyone equipped with a powerful artifact, could manage it extremely quickly. Some time would be needed for trial and error, of course, since one does not learn architectural principles in a day--but being able to shape a new building from solid stone every few days would definitely help the learning curve.

Cat flaps for pixies (and humans)

Well, we know how to construct massive stone buildings for giants. How do we make sure that everyone can enter the building? Clearly the highest priority is to build massive doors for the giants. Now, we could put small doors in for the humans, and smaller doors in for the pixies. But come on! If you are a 20th-level wizard constructing a city with an artifact of the elemental lords, are you really going to bother making three doors when you could make two?

No. You make a permanent phase door. Any creature of size Medium or smaller can use one, as long as you put the right conditions on it! Bonus: no doorknobs, so even creatures without hands can enter. And, of course, cats.

Cat flaps are for lesser mortals! I shall make a single door!

It is true. Why make two doors when you can make one? In fact, why not make...no doors at all? Enter the permanent teleportation circle (actually, two). Think of it as a doormat that also acts as a door. For someone with the finances of a 20th-level character, plus those of a city, even the high gp cost of this spell will be manageable. The circle will be set to teleport anyone who activates it a mere few feet, into the building itself. This includes creatures of any size, including our Huge storm giants. Of course, there may need to be emergency doors, in case some fiend (literal or otherwise) disjoins your nice teleportation circle. However, barring such catastrophes, this solves the problem of having to create three doors, or force pixies to struggle with human doors, or humans to struggle with giant-sized doors.

  • $\begingroup$ Note that the historical cathedrals took decades to build. Depending on when you consider it "finished", Notre Dame took between 87 and 182 years to compete. Even the slowest of the magical building methods you mention is done in a flash compared to the time that real medieval people were willing to put into prestige buildings. The economics of building with this level of magic are more like the economics of architecture with present day technology, or something more advanced than that. I expect that the styles of architecture would change because spectacular effects are possible at low cost. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, definitely. These building methods are significantly faster than even medieval technology would allow. The Moaning Diamond is probably faster than what even a large team of modern workers could accomplish, and requires only a single individual. Of course, the assumed rarity of casters and artifacts powerful enough to construct buildings this quickly, and the (possible) necessity of large quantities of natural stone, might make this possible only for some cities. $\endgroup$
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ Things like the teleportation circles are going to be expensive, too. A permanent teleportation circle is nearly as expensive as a warship, and two are needed to create a door. A 20th-level PC created from scratch will only have about 40 times that money, and realistically most of that will be spent on magical items. A 20th-level PC is richer than many towns (though which large alliances, there may be a lot of gold available). The point being that some of the more extravagant things, like teleportation doors, will be limited to large public buildings. $\endgroup$
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 20:25

Reduce person is a 1st level spell as is enlarge person. Suggests that changing a persons size is dirt cheap magically. Put the city inside an extra-dimensional space accessed thru various gates of differing sizes that conveniently convert everyone entering to medium size until they exit the space.

Would be expensive, but since you want it to be a trade city and connect members of your federation using gates to cut the distances could be justified. Additionally, since something like this would be essentially "plot magic" the DM could make setting it up an entire campaign as you search for the magic that enables it. And defending it from the whatever that built the space and gates originally or killed the original inhabitants or whatever would make for another. Sell it as an impregnable fortress for your alliance and then spend the next decade trying to defend it...

JDlugosz asks some good questions in comments, my answers aren't really that good, but people interested in this idea should read the comments.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I like this idea (though such spells attached to gates is handwavy relative to core rules). There might be an obstacle, though: pixies are fey, not humanoid. As such, they are not subject to Enlarge Person. Of course, with something like this, as you say, you don't need to play by the rules. I'd be more worried that people wouldn't want to live there--most people like their natural height! $\endgroup$
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 8:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Jonah Would you want them to live there? This would really be more a place for people to work, meet, and trade than to live in. // Now that you mention it reducing everyone to pixie-size would save a lot on building materials... Seriously, the spells are simply used to estimate difficulty of the effect, the targeting parameters of the specific spell are not really relevant since applying the magic to object or area changes them anyway. // Enchanting objects not given ready by the rules is always handwavy in D&D. You just find a spell with correct effect and start flapping your arms... $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ What would that do to goods and food? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz very good question, the description of the spells says carried items are also changed by same factor, but no guidance on cargo in carts and such. I guess not changed? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ Can a miniaturized person eat normal-scale food, and then what happens when he changes back? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 5:21

For beauty, think fractals: self-similar across a range of scales. That means people will generally know what to expect and can find the smaller units and navigate the larger units, just learning from what he sees on his own scale.


I'm going to suggest a slightly different analogy... Mezzanine vehicle decks on ships.

If you've been on any ferries which carry cars and lorries you'll see how they pack in as many cars as possible. To achieve this they make use of mezzanine desks so two layers of cars are transported for every one of trucks.

So let's take this a little further. What would a meeting room look like? I'd suggest a sort of amphitheatre with the largest occupants in the middle and ever diminishing races towards the outside. You'd only fit in a few giants but at least they could see everyone!

What about creatures sitting at a bar? How about a very tall serving area with seats of increasing feet from giant sized stools (for the pixies) to tiny seats for the giants. The barman could walk up and down the bar as they wished.

Roads? Instead of subdividing traffic by speed split it by size so the giants don't accidentally injure the smaller races.

How would houses work? I'd envisage the majority of the house being made up by the giant's home. Alongside that would be two human homes, one stacked on top of the other. Fours dwarves would live alongside the husband and six or even right pixies would take the smallest homes.

This gives rise to an interesting economic problem. If a landlord could subdivide their building to accommodate either one giant or sixteen pixies then they're going to want sixteen times the income every time. Any restaurant keener would rather serve fifty dwarves than ten giants. Being big would suddenly become very expensive!


Since I am tired of actually working;

I have to suggest taking the idea of adapting cathedral architecture seriously. A cathedral with a 100ft ceiling is not unusual. As for build time, while cathedrals were built using public funds and donations and took 100 years to finish, when a king wanted a similar castle or monument, it might be finished in less than 10. The Pantheon in Rome was built in about 8-10 years. Harlech Castle was built in 7. The Hagia Sophia was finished in only 5. Krak des Chevaliers took about 30 years, but would be a small village even to storm giants. If storm giants are actually involved in the building, build time would be seriously cut.

As for traffic and intermingling, I pick the Gothic cathedral to adapt. If you look at a picture of an interior, you will see that most have a second floor gallery that wraps around the whole building. This would be about the perfect height for humans and giants to see eye-to-eye. A little imagination and you could add a second scale gallery for smaller citizens.

For two examples of how this might play out, there is "The Borrowers" as a fun book to read. If you prefer, "Arrietty" was a fairly good adaptation to a movie. A second example would be two or three episodes from "Macross Frontier" that showed what a modern shopping mall would be like for both humans and truly giant beings. The walkways for humans end up looking like a facade on the walls to the Zentradi, but it puts them both at about eye level.


The easiest answer would be to have different districts, based on size. For a good example of what this would look like, watch Zootopia, because of course Disney would think through this problem.

Elephant District: http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/disney/images/5/54/Zootopia_Finnick_and_the_Popsicle.png/revision/latest?cb=20160129144610

Mouse District: http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/8vynmp/picture63564807/ALTERNATES/LANDSCAPE_1140/zootopia-200.0_064.00_0083

Yes, that is the same rabbit in both shots. The movie should also provide some insight into the functioning of such a city, as well as some of the problems that might arise.


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