Queen Filfaeril did not entirely manage to keep a sigh out of her voice. "Lord of my heart, where think you we've arrived in now?"
King Azoun blinked the last blue mists of translocation from his gaze, shook his head to help them depart, peered around, and announced, "A village."
The look Filfaeril gave him had daggers in it and caused her husband to recall that beneath her rich gown, two sharp and slender daggers rode sheathed to her garters.
"Ahem," he added hastily, "I fear 'twill take me some small -- nigh negligible, truly -- amount of time to ascertain just which village. I find that for the most part they're all very much alike."
Most realms in Faerûn have wild ("wilderland" in Realms parlance) areas, often mountainous or at least hilly, and heavily wooded. Wilderland dwellings are few, isolated, and home to hardy, self-sufficient folk used to battling monsters without aid, and providing for themselves.
In slightly less wild areas, as one moves from the frontiers toward larger settlements, "holds" (ranches with subsistence crop planting) and farms become common. In such rural country, villages, hamlets, or thorps usually develop around a temple or shrine, waymoot, waystop (inn), or mill (hence, a stream). Such settlements usually have an open-air market where local farmers sell their produce (at least once a tenday), a public well or horsepond or both, a tavern, and one or more local shops and services. Typically, an "anchor" business will be a smithy or the workshop of a carpenter, cooper (barrel-maker), or wagon-maker.
If the settlement or its temple is large or important enough, or strategically located along a trade route that is either sufficiently popular or sufficiently perilous or lacking in shelter, there will be an inn.
Typical farm-country villages and hamlets are a mix of fieldstone and log dwellings (called "steads" rather than "cottages" or "cabins," though a "steading" refers to a house and its outbuildings, gardens, and other cleared land). Most steads have shingle or board roofs (sometimes covered with earth where gardens of vine-edibles are grown), and a kitchen garden "out back," between the dwelling and its "jakes" (outhouse or privy).
Most buildings front along the roads or tracks of the settlement, and occasional steads may have walls of clay brick or wattle-and-daub. Dwellings of more than a single floor in height are rarities; the exceptions are usually the grand homes of local lords, wizards, community leaders, or priests.
Many rural settlements have woodlots and pastures among the homes, and there may be communal outdoor ovens or roasting-hearths, a "midden." (A midden is what many modern real-world folk call a "dump" or "tip," though it's dominated by what has been dug out of jakes, not by discarded furniture. In Faerûn, anything metal, cloth, or wood tends to get used and re-used until the remnants disintegrate.)
Most settlements have a lookout, either a tower or more often just a hilltop (with a signal beacon bonfire laid ready for lighting, to warn of an approaching army or orc horde). Roads are usually hard-packed bare earth except in swampy areas (where logs are laid crosswise to form a rough, bumpy roadbed, in what some modern real-world folk call a "corduroy road"). Only the best roads have ditches.
In almost all cities and towns, and wherever cheap and plentiful stone of the right hardness can be quarried, earth roads soon give way to a road made of cobblestones, which provide a hard surface vastly preferable to rutted, frozen winter mud or soft, sucking spring mud. Where cobbles can't be had, but small stones are available, roads will be made of gravel, sometimes laid over logs or culverts in areas prone to being washed away (not just where streams or springs cross, but also on or at the bottom of steep hillsides, where fierce storm rain can do damage).
Gnomes and halflings prefer to tunnel into hillsides to fashion their dwellings, lining excavated caverns with stone and roofing them with stone lintel arches. Where stone is locally handy and plentiful, they prefer to quarry and cut precisely fitted blocks, and most building they do for human clients is of this sort. Typical gnome-work is of rectangular stone blocks carved with a slight ridge or spine along their tops, and a corresponding trough or indentation on their bottoms. Blocks then bind together when placed atop each other, preventing the passage of most winds and making a wall stable against side pressure (such as from earth heaped up against it). In the crudest gnome- and halfling-work, walls are reinforced by simply building a second wall against the first, and if still more strength is required, they construct buttresses (short sloping "feet" of wall built perpendicular to the main wall).
In cold climates, such stonework is kept simple, oversized, massive, and durable, and they make it with "expansion joints" to withstand the shattering forces of cold, ice, and chilling winds. Windbreaks (known in the Realms as "cloak walls") shelter most entrances; at their simplest, these are simply walls that thrust out from an outer wall beside a door, and then turn to parallel that outer wall at about the distance of a stout man, and run along it for a dozen feet or so before ending. (When looked at from above, this sort of cloak wall forms a long-stemmed capital letter "L.") Cloak walls shield the most frequently opened doors, and climbing vines with edible vegetables often cover them. Small niches in their blocks, often hidden by the leaves of the vines, allow folk to leave messages or other small items (such as keys or payments).
Building in the Realms is almost always the work of a single overseer directing family and/or paid laborers (professional roofers, glaziers and tilers, or carpenters, and casual "harhands" who fetch, hammer, and carry). A farmer, small merchant, or retired soldier usually serves as his own overseer and will be the owner of the land being built on. Wealthy merchants and nobles hire an overseer (what modern North American real-world people call a "contractor") or order their own stewards to serve in such a capacity for them. Only in rare cases do landowners, even if planning to derive income from rents as landlords, hire builders to erect more than one building at a time.
"Master builders" (what in our modern real world might be called "engineers" or "architects") are very rarely used, and then only by royalty, nobility, or the wealthiest private clients; for everyone else, carpenters, in consultation with patrons, "design" buildings. The work of a master builder is usually necessary to build multiple identical buildings (or buildings in the same style). Most organized priesthoods have their own master builders who are members of the faith or even ordained priests.
And so our general overview of what humans dwell in, and why, concludes. The next column will explore the laws and customs pertaining to land, borders, and visitors.
About the Author
Ed Greenwood is the man who unleashed the Forgotten Realms on an unsuspecting world. He works in libraries, writes fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and even romance stories (sometimes all in the same novel), but he is still happiest churning out Realmslore, Realmslore, and more Realmslore. There are still a few rooms in his house with space left to pile up papers in . . .