I am new to dm’ing, but to be honest, I love it. I started off the right way for me, and that is by building my own city.
Building your own city gives you the freedom that you can always plug in other cities or take at will and reskin it, this isn’t a freedom that you get when you copy a setting. I will detail how I went about it.
I started with a free city builder, which is awesome, but limited and although it is awesome, I feel it is more for an experienced DM. The Town an city builder by James Embry is an awesome free resource if you are an experienced DM and want to build a city, town, hamlet, anything you want to give your players something to explore on your map.
I came accross a slightly more user-friendly (and at the same time more complex) option, called spectacular settlements by Nord Games. You can create the same things as with the free option by James Embry, but Spectacular settlements goes in deeper. It helps you create political intrigue, gives you guard options, gives you basic inns and other set-dressings. It can look a little bit daunting to start creating a city with it, but they did a good job by giving you fillable sheets (which are downloadable from their website for free).
I created my first city Bruckheim, first in James Embry’s town and city builder and got a very varied city, although some options where repetitive as each district had several shops that were the same. This is something you don’t get that easily or at all with the spectacular settlements and makes each district their own thing, and gives it a special flavour.
I know I got a review copy for Spectacular settlements, but that doesn’t change my opinion. It is really that good in making up cities, as you also get cities that are pre-made and could be plugged into your campaign at ease, with spectacular settlements.
I had a good concept of the city I wanted to create already and didn’t roll on all the options, but it gave me a more fleshed out idea of what I wanted, of what I was looking for. I highly recommend it as a resource for new and experienced Dm’s and it was a great step in creating my own city.
Creating a city for me, is something that needs to be done right. It has to feel like a city, so something has to happen regularly. There have to be hotspots in the city where things happen. My players need things to explore and it should give them joy to just traverse the city, speak with npc’s accept quests, just hang out in a tavern. Gamble a bit… get into a fist fight… get into trouble with the guards… all of this should be possible in your city. or your locations. It has to feel alive. I would love if my players would just play in-universe games in my city, and just relax, so it doesn’t have to be about dungeoneering all the freakin’ time, although there should be room for that as well, but a city needs to feel like a city. There has to be something happening all the time!