Hamlets, Villages, Towns and Cities
What did I need for the characters in my world? To what extent did the world need to exist beyond the door of their homes, and where were their homes? I decided I would need a city with a school of magic and a village or hamlet with a smith and a person skilled in battle.
This post discusses the differences in cities, towns, villages, and hamlets.
One of the oldest methods of determining the difference between a city, town,village, and hamlet, is population. In my world I use a similar method, but my values are lower than most found on the Internet.
Type Population Range
City Greater than 80,000
Large Town 8,000 to 80,000
Town 2,500 to 8,000
Village 100 to 2,500
Hamlet Less than 100
Some vary the population center descriptor by the function of the population center. For example; a center, with a noble greater than a Count, would be considered at least a large town, while a noble knight would control no more than a village. Similar descriptive identities might be given to a location with a University. But, in my world, one of the largest Universities in the Kingdom of Mozadil, Tennager University, resides in a village with fewer than 1,500 residents, including students. A village would have a blacksmith, a store, an inn, and a tavern, with the potential to have other businesses, farmers, fishermen and laborers. Would a hamlet have these?
I decided I needed to establish a method to determine what the people in the hamlet did. A hundred people (I only consider the adults in my calculation for the population) could supply workers for many types of businesses or professions. But, would a hamlet need a bakery or even a smithy? Not really. A hamlet would need an inn with a tavern or at least a tavern. How many people would that take? The inn in The Name of the Wind is run by the main character and his apprentice. What do the rest of the folks do? If the hamlet is inland, most of the people are farmers or herders and some might be hunters. If the hamlet is on a coast, some of the people will be fishermen. What about specialty hamlets, like logging or mining hamlets? If the business is profitable, it will probably grow to the size of a village quickly (like No-Name City in Paint Your Wagon.) Will there be a smithy? There is a chance a smith sets up shop in a large hamlet, but it is more probable the hamlet is served by a traveling smith who comes around as part of a route he takes to repair and sharpen tools and shoe horses (if they have horses and the horses have shoes.) Is there a bakery? Not likely, farmers have a tendency to do this themselves; they only need a store to buy grain or a mill to grind it. So, a hamlet will have a mill? Again, not likely, unless the hamlet produces enough excess grain or corn to justify their own mill. It is more likely they will ship their harvest to a village or town with a mill, buy ingredients, or hand-grind the meal themselves.
So, I came up with a formula for generating a standard hamlet. The formula includes a few occupations/jobs having a chance to be in the hamlet. You can add more if they seem logical in your world.
Occupation Percentage of Population Percentage Chance
Smith 1 to 2 Population/25
User of Magic 1 to 2 Population/50
Temple or Church 1 to 4 Population/10
General Store 1 to 5 Population/5
Inn with Tavern 1 to 5 90%
Inn without Tavern 1 to 5 85% if no Inn with Tavern
Single Tavern 1 to 5 90% if no Inn with Tavern
Second Tavern 1 to 5 In a mining or lumber hamlet: Population/10
Second Tavern 1 to 5 Non-specialty Hamlet: Population/50
Hunters Inland 5 to 20 Population/10
Farmers Inland 90% of Remaining Population
Hunters Coastal 1 to 10 Population/25
Fishermen Coastal 30% of Remaining Population
Farmers Coastal 90% of population after fishermen are accounted for
This is how it works. First check the low percentage occupations: Smiths, clergy, sales clerks and inn keepers, then calculate the number of hunters. Subtract all the people accounted for then take the percentage of the remaining for fishermen and farmers. Let me generate a hamlet as an example. The hamlet of Foresea has a population of 100 (just to make the calculations easy.)
There is a 4% chance a smith has a shop in the hamlet. If you are a gamer, you probably have a set of D100 dice. If not you can use a random number generation program on the web or your cell phone. I usually add the percentage chance to the roll and if the total is over 100 than there is a smith in the hamlet. You could also roll four or less and have the same percentage chance.
Since the population is 100, and the random number justified the smith, I will let the smith have an apprentice. The same method is used for each of the other non farming or fishermen positions. After generating all the random occupations, Foresea has: a smith and apprentice, a clergy of three, a general store with five workers, an inn with tavern employing four, and four hunters. Since Foresea is a coastal hamlet, the fishermen are calculated next. 100-2-3-5-4-4=82 remaining citizens. 82 x 0.30=24.6 Not wanting to have a part of a person, it rounds up to 25 citizens are fishermen. Why only 25%? It could be higher if women are allowed into this occupation on your world or in this hamlet, but, I like superstitious folk, so only a small percentage of the women would have a boat or be part of the crew. (This is not so for the pirates on my world, there the split is 40 to 45% female ship’s captains.)
Calculate the number of farmers. 82-25=57 remaining adults in Foresea. 57 x 0.9=51.3 rounding nearest = 51. Leaving six people. One of these could be the hamlet leader and the remaining five are unemployed, the local drunk, guardsmen (not really likely,) or laborers.
So now you ask, what about mining or lumber hamlets (or other specialty* hamlets? I first calculate the optional occupations, then calculate ten percent of the remaining occupation as cooks and cleaners. If it is not illegal for the hamlet to have a house of ill-repute, if so, five to fifteen percent of the remaining population can be employed there. The remaining folk are miners or lumberjacks.
Great, we have created a hamlet. Unfortunately it does not meet the need of the story or game. The random development is of value for building the basics of the hamlet, but if you need a mage in the hamlet, build him or her a tower and use the hamlet as his support population. If you need a retired hero, same thing; build him a tower, a manor house, or an inn to settle down and enjoy the leisure life of country living.
Just remember the hamlet is a small community and it is unlikely a hero will move in with his twenty men-at-arms, three squires, wife, maids, footmen, and stable boys without needing more support than a hamlet can provide. The needed services move in and ‘poof’ you have a village with a bakery, another tavern, a weapon smith, a butcher and candle maker. The candle maker needs tallow, so a farmer turns to ranching and hires people to render the fat to sell to the candle maker. Next thing you know, Farmer Jones sells his land to the Goldarian League Warehouse and Transport Company. Farmer Billingslee sells his farm to Western Wagons and Wheels. Buildings are built, bards come to the village to entertain at the local taverns, people move in, build houses, farms move further out… and now you have a town.
Establishing the type of community based solely on population is easy enough, but there are some other important things to consider. One is population density. Generally speaking, the population of a hamlet is significantly spread out compared to that of a city. Sure a city might have great manor houses with acres of walled property, but the general population is living in homes in direct contact with their neighbor or in two or three level apartments. The homes in hamlets are often made by those living in the house with the help of their neighbors. Roofs are often simple thatch. In a city a thatch roof would be found only in the poorest districts because such tightly packed housing would be susceptible to fire’s rapid spread thus quickly burning down the whole city (wood roofs would be too, but they do not catch on fire with just a spark as would a thatch roof.) As population density grows housing gets closer, the walls don’t need to stand alone, they gain support from the houses on either side. In a hamlet and village, the houses are not necessarily side to side. The structure or frame needs to be stronger. So, the description of the house, with its thatched roof and rough wood timber would change as population density increases. That does not mean the houses in a hamlet are better built, after all, they are built by farmers. Some may have knowledge of home and barn construction, but it is not their profession. In a city, there will (or could) be guilds for architects, stone masons, carpenters and other construction workers. The funds available and level of knowledge for designing and building the structure will determine the strength of the shop, apartment, house, or castle.
Even the construction of docks would be different in a coastal city compared to a coastal hamlet. A hamlet would not need a merchant ship to bring goods, but the needs of a city would require deep water docks to allow large merchant ships to unload their cargo. A coastal hamlet might not even have a dock, the fishermen could be using small, light-weight boats they would beach at night.
Now consider the level of goods and services. As the population increases, the need for other services increases. The hamlet’s shop would carry only the most needed items unattainable without the shop or a long trip to the nearest town or city. Why would they carry things the farmer or his wife will make on their own?
A good iron pot might be found in the small shop, but a silk shirt – not likely. The shop owner has to control his inventory to ensure a livelihood capable of supporting his family in the rural community. If it isn’t going to sell quickly, does he need to invest in the purchase? But, in a large city, there might not only be a shop that sells silk shirts, there could be a tailor that makes the shirts, a weaver that purchases the silk thread and weaves the cloth, and a person that collects and processes the silk to sell as thread or a shipping company that travels the world to find silk thread and imports it.
Is it likely there will be farms in a city? No. The population density will force the farmers out, the land is needed for housing, shops, manufacturing and warehousing. Family farms, farming hamlets and villages will be close to the city, people need food. But the value of the land within the city would be too high for a farm to support the farmer; all his crops and livestock would go to paying the rent on the land.
A Note on Town and City Design
Generally speaking, if a person can live in an area without the stink of the city constantly filling their nostrils they will. To this end, you will normally find the processing locations separated from the middle and upper class housing. This would include the fishery, slaughter house, leather, metal, and any other processing “plants” requiring heat (thus smoke) or flowing water. In a city these “plants” might be located in a district of their own, but, in a town, it is more likely they will be found surrounded by the poor folk unable to move to a more pleasant smelling location. In any case, the rich will be found in the parts of the city with the “cleaner air.”
Water and Sewage?
Not many hamlets or villages will be founded near two streams, one with fresh, clean water and the other for waste. Examining old maps, I have found common wells were often in the center of a hamlet and dispersed in a few locations around a village. Even towns and cities had a number of common wells or fountains. In ancient Rome, the upper classes had running water piped into their homes and had internal baths and toilets. In the rural hamlet, an outhouse is more common, and a trough for bathing. Even the rural inns had a shed for baths and an outhouse.
Want to kill off the hamlet? Dig a shallow well near the outhouse. Studies show you need at least 100 feet of sandy soil to purify the water in septic tank, in high clay soils fifty feet is not enough.
Disease caused by exposed sewage flowing through gutters lining the streets kills people even today. But, you can save your population if you pipe your sewage away from your city. Again Rome can be used as an example. Once the city had grown the need for underground sewage removal was obvious. A couple new occupations were invented. Pipe makers and pipe layers were needed to save the city.
As a side note, sewage and drainage tunnels make a convenient, hidden highway for your thieves, assassins, and smugglers. Cut a hidden tunnel to and between the existing tunnels and you can move throughout the city undetected. Of course once the rich find out there is a tunnel leading into their home, they will find ways to prevent easy access without clogging the drainage (the iron grates blocking the sewer entrance/exit from Queen Taramis’s city, Shadizar, in Conan the Destroyer; and, the grates in the sewer drains under the prison holding Gaston in Lady Hawke come to mind immediately.) They also make a good hiding place if the city is invaded or stormed by fire drakes (as long as they don’t shoot a burst of flame down the sewage tunnels – that could have explosive results.)
I have pages of services and occupations for hamlets, villages, towns and cities. Each list progressively larger, building on the previous in an additive fashion. In a future installment I may include these lists if I have time to transfer them all from notebook to computer file. My basic rule is: almost anything can be found inside the walls a large city except farms, and almost nothing can be found in a hamlet except farms, a mug of ale and, if you are lucky, in the words of Miracle Max, a nice mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich; when the mutton is nice and lean and the tomatoes ripe (but more likely just a bowl of broth.) In between it depends on the number of people logically able to make enough profit to support themselves and their business.
Next I needed to make a map of the city. But, as I thought about it, I wondered what government buildings would be needed. So, in my next installment, I will discuss types of government and the major mistake I made when developing my first city on the World of Eracrosi.
- Specialty hamlets to consider: Pirate or bandit hideouts with an established set of buildings for a tavern, inn, shop and housing. A hamlet built around a small fort or noble’s estate.