Your adventure awaits...
This post is Part 2 of a series to augment The Worldbuilder's Handbook available for free download. Start with Part 1 here.
This and other world-building workshops are gathered in my Worldbuilding Directory for you to explore.
After you've formed your river in Part 1 of this series, you can determine how your land was settled. Imagine settlers exploring your world for the first time. Since people need water to live, the first settlements usually form near rivers or other water sources. Nearby areas are often cultivated, hunted and fished, or harvested for natural resources like timber, stone, and ore. Wealthy towns draw more people, and these towns grow larger. Roads are laid to connect main towns, and smaller towns develop along main roads.
Unsettled lands are often home to nomadic peoples who come into conflict with exploitative settlers. To defend themselves from nomads or wildlife, your settlers might build walls around their town, as well as forts and other defensive structures on nearby high ground. Depending on the volatility of the times, the ruling class might commission fortified homes like keeps and castles, which trigger commerce and foster new towns.
Check out The Worldbuilder's Handbook for more free resources!
Trade outposts develop on the fringes of settled territory and, given times of peace, can flourish into artistic cultural hubs. The more established a civilization, the grander its buildings and its cities usually become, until factors like corruption and unrest cause a cultural decline. When a capital city is first established, it's often centrally located for defense within a settled area. However, territory exchanges with bordering nations can alter the centrality of your capital city over time, and your center of power might eventually shift to a wealthier or more populous area.
In a new land, the first roads tend to lead outwards from the capital city, connecting the major regions surrounding the capital. Roads generally run straight from town to town, unless uneven terrain makes bends or switchbacks more convenient or cost-effective. Some cultures pave straight through uneven terrain to demonstrate their engineering prowess, and other cultures build scenic routes that defer to the lay of the land. Some roads are maintained with pride, and others fall into disrepair. In these Cartography Annals of the Known World, you can see how each culture's worldview influences its roads. Reflect the spirit of your settlers with roads that defy or incorporate terrain in an appropriate way.
After major roads connect your capital city and largest towns, think about the commerce and other travel of your people. Determine which towns are travel hubs, and extend minor roads outward from these hubs, connecting to other towns and nearby major roads. Small towns often arise along well-traveled roads, and small roads connect larger roads to create more direct routes between towns. Aside from commerce, you may want to consider reasons for travel such as pilgrimage, migration, or tourism. New roads are often built to accommodate the traffic of numerous travelers.
With this basic blueprint, you can establish a solid foundation to build your world upon. Keep in mind that this outline is by no means comprehensive, and you can deviate from these concepts whenever you feel the need. However, try to deviate intentionally, with reasons why your people would have built their kingdom in such a way. A metropolis in the desert needs an alternate water source, and a winding road to nowhere needs a reason it was paved. You can save yourself a lot of heartache and stress by thinking about these explanations ahead of time.
That's it for this series! Check out the latest worldbuilding resources for more.
Download The Worldbuilder's Handbook here, or start your adventure below.