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Why city-states?

On DistantLands, a city-state is the largest form of state a single player can own and run. The following is a guide to structuring and designing a culture based around a city and its surrounding lands.

By definition, a city-state is a city and surrounding lands under a single organised government. The lands may consist of farmland, villages, and perhaps some towns, but the city is the centre of this state.

Being able to build only one city creates the potential to have more unique, interesting, and living cultural hearts. Rather than finishing one city and moving onto the next, this rule ensures that every political and cultural centre continues to evolve and grow in different ways.

Time Periods

The first question to ask yourself is which time period you want to build in. It’s tempting to go straight for medieval but in doing so you skip a lot of cultural development and you end up making something that feels cliché and uncreative. Here are your options:

  1. Neolithic/Paleolithic. Pre-3300BC. A time of basic farming, stone tools, hide, pottery, mudbrick, wattle and daub, pile dwellings, the wheel, henges, horses, and megalithic structures.
  2. Bronze Age: 3300BC to 1200BC. A time of metal tools, early urban civilisation, and symbol-based writing. With these inventions came the idea of soldiers/guards, chariots, swords, log cabins, saddles, rope, brick structures, taller buildings, forts, basic armour, early ships, and basic mines.
  3. Iron Age: 1200BC to 900BC. An age of prevalent iron or steel usage. Larger structures like bridges, city walls and gates, larger seafaring boats with oars, and stone forts were possible. There were stronger swords and armour, yurts, oil lanterns, chainmail, rudders and keels for boats, plows, water wheels, spinning wheels, lathes for buckets and bowls, papyrus, pottery wheels, and querns to grind grain.
  4. Classical Antiquity: From around 900BC up to 200AD. This is when civilisation really kicks off. The list of inventions includes: crank motion, cast iron, crossbows, spiral stairs, catapults, canal locks, water wheels, pulley cranes, blast furnaces, paper, wheelbarrows, and woodblock printing.
  5. Post-classical: Between 200AD and 1500AD. Known as the medieval period in and around Europe. Inventions include: carriages, horse collars, horseshoes, stirrups, domes, porcelain, distillation, universities, stained glass and glass windows, canvas paintings, full plate armour and a wide array of weapons, hops (for alcohol), ploughs, artesian wells (using water pressure), gothic architecture, chimneys, treadwheel cranes, mills of many kinds, looms, glass mirrors, soap, and trebuchets.
  6. Anything past this point is against the rules :3

The above list is very approximate and there may be some overlaps, since not everywhere advances at the same rate.

Basic Materials

Got any idea of when you want your culture to exist? Let’s talk about architecture. There are many options, but let’s go over basic materials first:

  • Mudbrick: Mudbrick is an ancient and sturdy way of building. They are sundried bricks usually due to a lack of timber with which to fuel a kiln. They don’t work if they are too wet for too long, and so are best suited to dry, treeless regions. Sometimes they are covered with stucco to give a smooth finish. Mudbrick is often laid on a layer of stone to protect it from damp.
  • Sod: This is when you cut a square of grass out of the ground and you get the roots and soil with it. Sod or turf was piled into walls, a wooden structure was made to support a sod roof, the outside was sometimes reinforced with stucco or wood panels, and plaster often lined the interiors. Though extremely cheap and well-insulated, they are very vulnerable to rain damage. Sod can be piled up around a wooden dwelling for a stronger result.
  • Brick: If there’s sufficient material and fuel for kilns, bricks can be made. Once fired, bricks are extremely durable. Some form of concrete is often required to bind the bricks together.
  • Stone: Basic and strong. Stone structures include: cosy dwellings built into the ground, megalithic temples, pyramids, forts, or castles. Elaborate stone carving is a somewhat late invention, so make note of the difference between being able to build out of stone and being able to carve the stone and then build out of it.
  • Wattle and daub: Also known as half-timber. It involves timber framing with a sticky material pasted between, made from a mixture of unpleasant materials. It is a low-impact, cheap, sustainable way of building.
  • Thatch: Thatch is a material used in roofs and walls made of dried straw, reeds, rushes, or similar, and is designed to shed water. It is useful in any area that receives rainfall and can be made using local vegetation at very low costs. It normally has some other material on the underside of the roof to support it.
  • Timber: Whether it’s a pile dwelling over the water or a log cabin, wood is a sturdy and reliable material, provided there’s a source of wood nearby. It is very common in forested, cool regions.
  • Animal/fabric: If you don’t require large, permanent buildings, you can build out of hide, skin, or canvas. Such structures may be yurts, tents, lavvu, teepees, tupiq, or something else.

Real World

Real world inspiration is key. You can search for years and continue to find new styles, sites, and ideas that you never knew existed. It helps to not only copy an existing culture, but to learn why they built the way they did, and to tweak these reasons to fit your own culture.

For more varied results, replace “architecture” with words like “village”, “town”, “ancient”, “home”, “traditional”, etc.

Ancient World

Architecture from the neolithic and paleolithic periods, ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Byzantine.

Neolithic Search here.

Paleolithic Search here.

Mesopotamian Search here.

Ancient Egyptian Search here.

Ancient Greek Search here.

Ancient Roman Search here.

Byzantine Search here.


Architecture from Persia, Parsia, Parthia, Khorasani, Samanid, Seljuk, Azeri, and Isfahan cultures.

Persian Search here.

Parsian Search here.

Parthian Search here.

Khorasani Search here.

Samanid Search here.

Seljuk Search here.

Azeri Search here.

Isfahan Search here.


Architecture from Islamic, Ottoman, Turkistan, Mughal, and Pala cultures.

Islamic Search here.

Ottoman Search here.

Turkistan Search here.

Mughal Search here.

Pala Search here.


Architecture from African, Aksumite, Nok, Ghana, Somali, Sudanese, Hausa, Benin, Yoruba, Rwanda, Buganda, Nubian, and Burundi cultures.

African Search here.

Aksumite Search here.

Nok Search here.

Ghana Search here.

Somali Search here.

Sudanese Search here.

Hausa Search here.

Benin Search here.

Yoruba Search here.

Burundi Search here.

Rwanda Search here.

Buganda Search here.

Nubian Search here.


Architecture from Indian, Karnataka, Kalinga, Chalukya, Hoysala, Vijayanagara, Hindu, Khmer, Micronesian, Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indonesian, Javanese, and Buddhist cultures.

Indian Search here.

Karnataka Search here.

Kalinga Search here.

Chalukya Search here.

Hoysala Search here.

Vijayanagara Search here.

Hindu Search here.

Khmer Search here.

Micronesian Search here.

Tibetan Search here.

Chinese Search here.

Korean Search here.

Japanese Search here.

Indonesian Search here.

Javanese Search here.

Buddhist Search here.


Architecture from Incan, Aztec, Mayan, Olmec, Pueblo, and Mississippian cultures. Search here.

Incan Search here.

Aztec Search here.

Maya Search here.

Olmec Search here.

Pueblo Search here.

Mississippian Search here.


Architecture from Medieval, Pre-Romanesque, Romanesque, and Gothic cultures.

Medieval Search here.

Pre-Romanesque Search here.

Romanesque Search here.

Gothic Search here.