Originally posted on mappingworlds.wordpress.com

In this post we will create the outskirts of the city, farmlands and the ruins. First of all you have to decide what parts of the city that will be farmland and what part will be ruins. In this map I wanted to create the feeling that the city is situated in the middle of an old ruined city. The two closest islands to the east and west of the city will consist of farmland. Those areas are close to the city and will be easy to protect as well. On the north part of the western island you can also see that a part of the old city wall has been taken into use again, to protect the city from whatever hides outside.

When I create farmland I always start by putting in all the roads and houses. Usually you will have a cluster of houses just outside the city gates, the further away you get from the gates the more space you will have between houses. I then select the city hedge drawing tools and start to mark out the area where the fields will be. I’m actually using the same technique here as I do when I’m making smaller towns. For a more thorough explanation on how I draw the fields see my Mapping a small town part 4 post over at my mappingworlds blog.

When I’m done with all the fields the map looks like the picture below, so still some ruins to place.

To complete the fields in the map I also export a map from CD3 where all the land is yellow. In this way I can combine them in Photoshop and paint in some yellow fields among the green ones. This will give you a more natural look than if the fields are just green. See my Mapping a small town part 6 post for more info on how to do this. The yellow version of the map looks like the picture below.


You can of course add in all the yellow fields in CD3, but I’ve found that to be a lot more time consuming then doing it by combining the two pictures above in a third party program. This program doesn’t need to be Photoshop, use the program that you feel comfortable with.

The next step would be to add in some ruins in the picture. Here I must say that CD3 didn’t really have any good styles to work with to get the look I wanted, so I had to make something up myself. Creating a completely new style wasn’t something I felt I had the time or knowledge to do, but I think a good ruined city style would be a great style add on in a future Annual. Sure you have some ruins in the program that you can use, but for me a ruined city mainly consists of the foundations of the houses and maybe some larger, more intact, buildings.

So I decided to draw in some random roads and houses using the CD3 B Ruins Grey buildings. They’re not perfect, but they are a good base symbol to continue working from.

When I’ve put in all the roads and larger buildings in the map I’d export it again from CD3. This means that I now have three different versions of the map, which I’m going to put together in Photoshop, the two different ones with yellow and green fields and this one with a green background and ruins in the outskirts of the city.


At this stage I had to work on the ruins a bit in Photoshop to make them look more like ruins. If you put the map with ruins in one layer and put it on top of a layer consisting of the map with green fields. You can start to erase bits and pieces from the top layer, when you do this the layer below will be visible instead of the top one. In this way I erased all the inner parts of the buildings, which left something that looked more like the foundation of a house. I also erased parts of the larger buildings to make them look more like ruins with broken roofs and missing walls.


In the picture above you can see a part of the map where you have the ruins as they look in CD3 on the left side, and how they turned out after some editing in Photoshop on the right side. In my opinion the right side looks more like ruins then the left side. Or at least more like the ruins I wanted in this particular map.

Originally posted on mappingworlds.wordpress.com

We now have the basic layout of the city. Next step is to put in more roads and try to decide where to place the majority of buildings. Sometimes when you create a large city the process of placing all the houses can be overwhelming. To make this easier I try to divide the city into smaller areas. I then place the houses one area at the time. In this way you divide the work into smaller goals that you can reach quite quick. It will make the whole process much easier. In the picture below you can see how I’ve divided the city of lost souls into seven areas to fill it with houses. Make every area interesting by adding a major house, villa or temple in it. It will add some details to your city and will make the end product more fun to look at.

At this stage I also try to locate where the major squares will be, naturally they will be situated where the large roads meet up. I also like to add some smaller squares in front of the gates, usually this is where people have to wait to get in and out of the city. You also have to decide what density your city will have. Nearly all cities have some sort of park or green area, older cities could actually have quite a lot of farmland inside the walls. In this case how ever the farmlands are outside the city walls.

When I start to place the houses I zoom in and out to quite a lot to check the progress of the area I’m doing to make sure that the network of roads and houses looks natural. A good thing to think about is if the area you’re making is planned or if it has grown over time. To understand the difference in how a planned city looks compared to one that has grown over time you can look at some modern cities in USA (for example New York) and compare it to some older ones in Europe (for example Venice). The planned ones tend to have straight roads in squares and the grown ones usually have roads and city blocks in all kind of versions. At first you can’t really see any logic in the city construction, but after a while you will start to see that roads lead between squares and larger empty areas usually consist of an important building and its surroundings.

When I start to map an area I always start with the roads. First I add in some larger main roads, I then switch to a smaller road to make intersections between the larger roads. In the picture below you can see a nearly finished inner part of the city. I’m working on the last area and have put in the roads and squares. The squares I try to place in areas that feel natural. Also try to have some space between squares, a square is a place to meet and trade, so they will be evenly spread out in the city.

When I add houses to a city or town I always start by using the Random street tool. The ability to quickly add all houses on a street is one of City Designer 3′s best advantages. When you’ve added a lot of streets it isn’t always possible to use the Random street tool everywhere, in those cases I add the houses one by one. Sometimes you also have to go back after adding houses with the Random street tool and delete houses that don’t fit in for one reason or another.

When I use the Ramdom street tool I try to make the houses come as close to each other as possible. To do that you have to change the settings a bit. Right click on the Random street tool icon and in the street option window you click the Street settings button. The settings I used for the map you can see in the picture below.

The most important setting is the Distance between houses that I always set to 1, both as Min and Max value. In this way you will get the houses as close as possible togehther. The other values depend on the scale of the map that you’re doing. You have to try some different settings here and see what works out.

When you’ve added houses to all your areas in the town you are done with the central parts of your city. Don’t forget to zoom out once in a while and check that the streets look good. I often have to go back and add some more roads to make the city more crowded. In the next post we will start on the outskirts of the city, farmlands and ruins.

 

 

 

Okay, so far we have the landscape where the city will be situated. When creating the City of the Lost I combined graphics from three different styles in City designer 3. First of all the actual landscape, which is what we have at the moment, is made in City style A. Later on when I add in houses I mainly use the graphics from City style B. The reason for this is that those houses looks more painted then the one in style A. which look more 3d generated. Which one to prefer is up to you, but in the maps I do the style B graphics are better suited. In this map I’m also using some graphics from the Profantasy March annual, Jon Roberts city style. In that style I’m especially fond of the city walls and towers. However the walls in this style are a bit harder to place due to being built from a static graphic file. So you have to watch the corners because they tend to create some gaps there. A good way to hide this is to place a tower on the “bad” spot.

When I start a new town I usually always start by building the town wall and deciding where the gates will be. In this way you will get a clear view and idea on where the majority of houses will be placed, so you can plan ahead and get a good balance in the map. In this particular map we also have three different docks, one larger and two smaller ones. In older cities the docks were often situated outside the city walls. In this way you could both tax the goods efficiently when they were entering the actual city and you also didn’t need to compromise the security of the town. So I’m placing the two docks on the central island outside the walls. The small third dock, however, is situated in an area where you have no walls. This dock is probably used for more local trading, not taking in ships from abroad. The idea with the docks is also that they are remnants from an earlier city that has been reused. So naturally it is around the docks that the “new” city is built.

Now, when we have the walls and gates of the city I put in the main roads. The logic here is that all main roads in a city usually will take you from gate A to gate B. Somewhere in between you will have some main areas like a square or a city hall etc. In this way you will also create some natural boundaries for different districts in your city. It will make it easier for you to plan the next step, adding more roads and start adding houses.

Originally posted on mappingworlds.wordpress.com

In my last post I presented the City of Lost Souls. The idea of the city has been in my mind for a long time as a city that originally was created by outcasts from the ordinary society. Outcasts that in the end have created a powerful city, a city made untouchable because of its location in the middle of a maze like river delta.

In this post and the next couple of post I’ll try to describe the process I’ve developed when I create cities. I don’t say that this is the best way to do it but it is one way to do it. To exemplify the process I’m using I will use the map of the City of Lost Souls.

When I decide to make a map it is always easier to start if you can get some inspiration from the real world. One of the best tools you can use is Google earth. You can learn tons of information just by moving around the globe looking at old cities, land formations and following rivers through the landscape. In this particular case I looked a lot at river deltas and cities situated at the end of rivers.

You will never find anything that will look exactly like the part you want to create, but the idea here is to find real world location that can inspire you, and that you can copy bits and pieces from. In this way you can create a map that will look much more convincing than if you just draw something from your head.

I soon found two cities that gave me the right feeling. These cities were Lübeck in the northern parts of Germany and Gdansk in Poland. None of them was perfect but I liked the flow of the river around the old part of Lübeck (as you can clearly see in the map), but this part missed a harbor. So I picked the harbor from Gdansk for the map. I also added in some more rivers to get the feeling that the city really is situated in a river delta.

In City Designer 3 (CD3) I then started a new map and started to draw the rivers. During the process I looked at the cities for inspiration but still trying to do something original. While creating the island where the actual town would be I draw the outline of the harbor already at this stage. In this way the shadows between river and land would be right later on. So at this stage I had a quite clear picture on how I would progress with the city. In the picture below you can see the result when all the terrain was done. Next step would be to start on the actual city.

First off, I apologize for the long lag between part 5 and 6 of this series:  it was not my intention, but a series of life events conspired to take me away from mapping.  But I’m back.  Thanks to everyone for the kind words of support along the way.

If you need to refresh your memory about the project, here are links to Mapping Cities part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

In this session, we’re going to fill in the blocks of our district with buildings, lots and lots of buildings.

We’re starting with the Entertainment district, which I’ve completely filled with block designations:

Rough outline of the block that we will fill in, showing major alleys and form

 

It’s a little hard to see in the overview, but I’m going to work on the block in the middle of the district – just where the bend in one road meets another coming from the right.  You can see that the road is defined by the absence of buildings, and I’ve left alleys at random places throughout the block.

 

I’m purposefully haphazard about how I put these blocks in – for a medieval city, I don’t need a lot of square corners and perfect streets.  The blocks become guidelines so that I know where to leave room for streets, squares, and public spaces.

We’ll start by putting in landmark buildings.  We’re going to put these in from the CD3 symbol library –Read post 5 for an explanation why.  I’m going to start by putting 5-7 landmarks for a block, that usually works out that each street has a few landmarks that make it interesting.  Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • I’m using variable color symbols, and plan to do the city in mostly red tile roofs.  I’m starting with color 167 for the large buildings, and plan to get darker for the other buildings – it will make the landmarks stand out a little more  making them easier to find.  To me it also looks like more sunlight on bigger buildings as well.
  • Enabling smart tracking on the symbols lets me align them with the roads, which is a great help.  But after that, sometimes smart tracking can fight you in getting the building in the right place.  Just go ahead and get the alignment of the symbol correct, then move it if you need it in a different position.
  • Most buildings in a city will have their shorter side facing the street – that reduces taxes and maximizes the value of the limited road space.  For these first buildings, it’s a rule worth keeping in mind but also violating freely.  After all, these are landmarks, which are supposed to draw attention.
  • I like to expand the symbol collections and place specific buildings.  But when I run out of imagination for that, I start picking randomly (or quit for a while)
  • Take notes as you go!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a great idea for one specific building, that I’ve forgotten when I came back to work on the map.

 

Here are my landmark buildings placed:

 

Now we’re going to fill in a bunch of smaller buildings, using the Insert Building Tool ().  I’ve darkened the red to 164, and used the following options:

Our options for the CC3 Insert Building tool

 

Now, we’ll start putting in the smaller buildings, and next time we’ll give some tips to make everything look great without worrying.  Here’s a shot of the block in-progress to show where we are going:

 

 

 

In this, the fourth part of our series on mapping cities, we will spend time setting up a district using Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3).  We will be using the City Designer 3 (CD3) add-on because it makes the job of mapping cities much easier.  But pretty much everything we do in this tutorial can be accomplished with the based program – it’s just more work, and your style and building options are fewer.

When we get to the step of mapping individual buildings, you’ll definitely want to have a copy of CD3 because the end result is so much better.

We are going to rough out the entertainment district of our map (the red district just above center):

My original city map was created in an old version of CC3, so we’re going to copy the district and put it in a new map.

We can save ourselves later work by checking the size of the district.  It’s easy in CC3 by using the Distance tool (Info>Distance).  Checking the our district it’s 1592 meters east-west and 1133 meters north-south.  Just write that information down for later.

Now we want to copy this district, and any important landmarks, to a new map.  Select menu Edit>Copy (or shortcut ctrl-c) and select the entire district that you want to copy.  Most likely, you will get extra elements – at this point that is ok.  Here’s how my select looked:

In process selecting districts from city map

Selecting districts from the city map

Press “D” for do it, and select an origin – in the middle of your district is easiest.

Now we start a new map, using our own settings:

First screen of CC3 new drawing wizard

First step of creating a new city map

I’ll use a CD3 Bitmap A style:

Second step of creating new city map: selecting the template

Using the CD3 Bitmap A template

When you get to the screen to set dimensions, go back to the dimensions you wrote down from your original map.  I like to round them up and add about 20% on – to give myself some room to work and also show a bit of the surrounding area.  So I’m going to change my dimensions from 1592×1133 to 1920×1440:

Setting new map dimensions

Enter the dimensions you recorded from the original city map

I’m going to set the background to cobble, since this is a dense city center and there will be little greenspace.  I don’t usually enable multiple levels – I find it’s easier to add the new levels as I need them.

When you are done, you should have a map something like this:

Our new map, a new canvas to cover

Now, to insert your old district, just select Edit>Insert (or control V).  You can see that I grabbed a few things that I don’t need (I have effects turned off so everything is solid):

I’ll quickly delete the extra wards and get us down to the district we want:

After deleting we’re ready to go

You can still see the major road and the boundaries of the district.

I leave these in place as they are until I’m done with the next step, which is laying out the blocks of the ward.  Ultimately, we will cover the blocks with buildings, but for now they let us see sections of the district and where squares, roads, and alleys should go.

I typically do the blocks as just white polygons on a new “REFERENCE BLOCK” sheet.  That way I can hide them when I want.  Just go ahead and start drawing them, making sure that you don’t cover the roads, and you give enough room for alleys and access ways.  Here I’ve filled in the first blocks:

We put reference blocks starting from one corner of the district

Stay tuned for next edition, where I’ll show you all of the blocks filled in, and start talking about building sizes.

In the previous two installments of this series, we determined where a city is likely to arise, and did some basic planning for a city (read Mapping Cities Part One here and Part Two here).  In this installment we will plan out a district in more detail.

There are four things to keep in mind when thinking about the structure of the district:

  • Roads and Traffic:  Are people mostly passing through (e.g., a gate ward) or heading to this district (e.g., a merchant area)?  This will determine road size and pattern, with wider roads for main thoroughfares and places where livestock must travel.
  • Planned or not?  Cities rarely arise all at once, and different areas get different amounts of planning.  Unplanned sections typically grow up along a road, or near a point of interest such as a well, then fill in between the spaces.  Planned areas are more likely to have uniform plot sizes and more organized roads.
  • Style of the buildings:  Do the buildings face inward, typically toward and inner courtyard?  Or do they face outward toward the street, typically with stores or other commercial endeavors facing the street.  Buildings with courtyards will require more space.
  • Density:  Near the center of a city there is little open space – houses are more tightly packed.  Further away from the center there is often room for livestock or family gardens.

Affecting all four of these mapping factors is the question of age:  As districts age, they change and deviate from plans, space is filled in, walls are torn down, roads and squares infill.  A fundamental right for city dwellers was the right to own land, and new cities are laid out in standard-sized burgage plots.  The size of these plots vary from city to city, but are uniform within the city:  Typically 10-20 meters wide facing the street, and 50-100 meters deep when first laid out.

The plots are large enough for outbuildings, keeping animals and small gardens.  But as space pressure increases, the plots are subdivided and filled in.  Usually the divisions stay within single plots, but the example below shows two plots that were split up together.

Evolution of Burgage Plots

Over time city plots are filled and subdivided

As you lay out plots, you need to make sure that every building has access of some sort to the road, even if it is through an alley.  In the example I give above, the grey areas are alleys.  As you have ideas for points of interest, add them now or make notes for later.

I occasionally cheat and put in plot divisions that are not road-accessible.  I just know that they will need a passageway through another building (maybe an arched gateway) or they need to be abandoned buildings that I can use later in my campaign.

Next time, I will show you how to apply these rules in Campaign Cartographer, using an entertainment district of my city.

Location, Location, Location

by Steve Davies

Cities are one of the greatest environments for RPG adventuring.  In a tight space, players can reasonably encounter every type of roleplaying challenge and meet each with a dizzying array of strategies and tactics.  Cities can also be a gamemaster’s (GM) nightmare.  It’s difficult to know where players will go next, detailed preparation is almost impossible, and everything should be available.  To be successful, GMs need overall planning and a good city map.  This series will get you started on the map and support your planning.

This is the first of a short series of articles on mapping cities for fantasy roleplaying games.  I’ll show you the main considerations as you place, design, detail, and then play in the city.  When we’re done, you’ll be able to draw out a reasonable city with confidence and present your players with an experience they won’t forget.  I use ProFantasy’s Campaign Cartographer as my main mapping tool, and all of the maps are drawn with it.  There is no post-processing on any of the maps.

I recommend that as you build your own city, that you keep a notepad at your elbow to record your thoughts and designs.  Mapping is a creative process, and you will find that you generate many ideas for future adventures as you create your maps.  Write the ideas down, and transfer as many of them to the map itself as you can.  That way you can find them when you need them.  So if you’ve just mapped a narrow pass that would be perfect for an ambush, add that encounter idea as a “GM-only” hidden note.  If you don’t write them down in the moment, it’s often tough to remember or recreate the ideas later.  And it’s great to be preparing for a gaming session and pull up the notes as a way through creative blocks.  You will find that in city building, these notes are critical to make the city come alive later.

About Cities

Cities in the middle ages were rare.  Fewer than a dozen true metropolises existed before the modern era.  That is because a city needs the following things to grow and flourish:

  • Abundant food and water to feed the population
  • Water access:  Either a navigable river or seaport
  • Defense:  Hills, river bends, and offshore islands all protect the riches of the city.
  • Trade routes:  Trade is the lifeblood of the city and where routes meet or goods transfer, cities grow.

The first task for anyone mapping a city is to find a suitable site for the city.  On the map below, I’ve mapped the most likely places for a city to grow:

  1. Mouth of a Major River:  This is an ideal spot, and where we will put the largest city in the kingdom
  2. Trade Route Crossing:  There are major resources up both tributary rivers, as well as a quick route to the passes in the north.  Plus, the southern river provides clean water.
  3. Lowest Bridging Point:  This is the point closest to the ocean that a bridge can be built over the river
  4. Highest Navigation Point:  The point beyond which ships cannot travel.
  5. Passes:  Travelers often have to wait, and it’s natural for a city to form here.

I’ve chosen point 2 for Templeton, the second largest city in the kingdom.  It’s in the middle of farming country, has good water, access to trade, and a center of magical power.

Before leaving this map, I’m going to place a symbol for Templeton and put a little color around it to signify the farmlands around the city that directly serve it.  I often place a hyperlink in the map when I place the city symbol.  That allows me to go immediately from an area map to the specific map.

Now we’ll turn to working on the city itself.

Drawing the Locale

My country map, when magnified, looks like this to the right.  There’s not much detail!  We are so close to the area that the two rivers just look like lines.  And I haven’t put in much detail on the main map, so there is no other detail to show here.  So we’re going to work to detail it and we just need to make sure we respect the river routes.

The first task is to map the land on which the city sits.  If you want to make this easy on yourself, put the city on a flat piece of land.  My city grew on a small hill that rose above high flood marks on the river.  Over thousands of years of building and razing, the hill has grown to about 500 feet in height.  I like putting in the actual contours, as you can see on the map below, but you can just as easily just have the city sit on flat ground or denote where hills are.

Next, I’ll take the general lines of the rivers and draw rivers that look more like real rivers up close, and I get the following map:

Now we’re making good progress.  You can see that I added a lot more detail to the rivers, widened the top one, and added bends to the lower river as it crossed the plain.  I realized that the river at the top of the map should be wide enough that the far side no longer fits on the map.  That’s one advantage of making separate small and large-scale maps–you can add the detail that is appropriate.  I turned everything a little bit counter-clockwise as well to orient the city more squarely to my map.

Now before I go much further, I need to make sure that the scale that I’m working on is about right.  To do that, I need to know how much room the city will take up.

My rule of thumb is to have the cities be about 2% to 5% of the population of the land.  There are many good sourcebooks to determine population, but I’m going to use a feature of CC3, its ability to calculate an area, to determine the amount of farmland I have.  Using the Area command on the grassland of the regional map, I find that I have about 100,000 square miles of cultivated land.  If I use a figure of about 50 people per square mile, I get a total population of about 5 million souls for the kingdom.  Using a 2% city-dwellers figure, that gives me a total city population of about 100,000.  I want three cities, so I’ll put about 50,000 in the capital city on the coast, and split the rest between the two other cities.

Since this is the second city, I’ll make it about 30,000 people, a large city by medieval standards, and one where the population swells dramatically during festival weeks and important ceremonies.  So I’m going to pack the city densely, assuming that the permanent inhabitants will put in guest rooms and other buildings to take advantage of the wealth that visitors bring.

For the city itself, I usually use between about 80 and 150 city dwellers per acre, and 2-4 people per building.  Since this city gets an inswell of people during ceremonial days, I’m going to select 100 people per acre for the permanent population and put in as many buildings as possible.  So on ceremonial days, the city will have 200 people per acre, and be overcrowded.  The 30,000 people in this city need about 300 acres on which to live, which is a little less than ½ square mile.  And I’m going to pack more buildings in so it’s completely filled with buildings to house the periodic influx of visitors.

Outlining the City

Having the size and area of the city determined, I then draw a rough outline of the city.  Cities on ridges, like this one, tend to be linear, with anchor attractions at either end of the main road.  Cities on plains will expand along trade routes.  We’ll talk more about this as we detail the districts of the city.  For now, I’ll draw a lozenge shape on the city hill and check that it’s about the right size:

The area that I’ve shown is about ½ square mile, so it’s a good approximation for what I need.  Truth be told, when I first drew this area, it was about ½ the size I needed, but I liked the shape and where it was.  So I just scaled everything in the map by about 2x, and checked that the rivers mostly lined up (they did), and I had a map the size that I needed.  We’re gamers, so it’s important to have ways to get the results we need quickly from our tools.

Details

Before leaving this phase of city design, we need to identify routes into the city, and any important details needed outside the city.  I also like to put in the city walls at this point.  By doing walls now, I often face the same constraints that city leaders probably face:  They put in the walls to contain expected growth and needs, but sometimes things don’t develop as planned.  When I find later that a wall is not where it would be most convenient, I can easily move it in the mapping tool.  At first, I try not to move the wall.  I try to find a different way to do what I need.  I find it often leads me to put in interesting features, such as the cattle market that only made sense if it were partly inside and outside a key city gatehouse.   That meant that while the market was going on, there was no way to close the gate, which gave characters some interesting tactical options.  Or the manor house that did not have enough room to expand, so they built up, and ultimate onto, the city wall, causing no end of problems and disputes.

The huge river north of the city periodically floods, so we’re going to put the main gate to the city at one of the higher points in the wall, to keep it out of floodwaters as much as possible.  That also keeps it away from the steeper patches at either end of the hills.

Once I’ve added in the walls, a few external features, and made a few text notes, the map looks like this:

Overall Feel

Before leaving the initial stages of city building, I like to step back a minute and look at the big picture.  If done right, this city will be a focal point for the campaign and many sessions.  It is worth thinking about the overall feel of the city, and about what will make it special.  Find some things that bring the city alive.  I’ve made cities full of flowing water and fountains.  The main city in this kingdom sits just above a huge waterfall.  Ptolus, Monte Cook’s beautiful city, has a waterfall and cliff in the middle.

For Templeton, the mythos of the world requires a set of strong temples on the high western hill.  In addition, I want to have a ‘city of the dead’ on the hills at the east of the town.  If the area around the city often floods, burying the dead above floodwaters might make sense.  Beyond these obvious things, I want the city to be very dense, with crooked streets and houses that encroach.  I envision a ruling body of priests who are more interested in otherworldly things than they are in keeping roads clear.  There should be lots of hawkers of religious trinkets and other wonders of the world.  So overall, this may look more like a romanticized eastern city than a quaint English town.

For now, that’s enough to go by.  Stay tuned for part II in which we will plan the districts of the city, place key points of interest and begin laying out roads and major buildings, taking into account the needs of glorious game play.

Urban Planning

By Steve Davies

If you’ve read our previous article, Mapping Cities 1, welcome back.  If you just joined us, look at that first article, or just follow along from here.  So far, we’ve found a place for the city, determined its size and laid out the general geography and boundaries.

Next, we’re going to add details to work up to an overview map of the city.

Major City Features

First, we need to place the major features of the city:  Points of interest, major districts, entry points, roads, and other trade points.  I generally cycle through these one by one, and continue going through the list until I am out of ideas.  I’ll place these items on the map as labels or symbols to guide my further development.  Here are some design considerations:

  • Points of interest:  This includes major buildings like courthouses, temples, and markets.  Include government, business, religious, and entertainment points of interest.  Usually a city will have all four types.
  • Major Districts:  I usually put in roughly one district per 1,000 people in the city.  Wealthier districts take up more space (they are less dense).  Put in labels for the districts if you have ideas, or leave them blank.  The more affluent districts will be at the center of the city and along the major thoroughfares.
  • Walls:  Walls are expensive to build, but cities are valuable.  Put in walls if the city is threatened, and expand the city outside the walls if there has been a period of peace.
  • Entry Points:  There should be a gate in the wall, or other way of collecting tolls, for every major direction from which people will enter the city.
  • Roads:  Roads will tend to parallel rivers and natural harbors; they will follow contours and attempt to rise evenly.  Ridges will push the city into a longer form, often with a castle or temple at either end of the main street.  On round hills, buildings cluster on top and roads tend to ring the hill.
  • Trade:  The city will thrive on trade.  Make sure there are enough markets to cover everything for sale.  But, don’t mix the cattle market in with the flowers, or even worse, ceramics and glass.

Streets

I like to lay out the major roads early.  The main things to think about here are terrain, connecting major points of interest together, and the amount and type of traffic.  This latter is important to determine how wide the road should be.  And remember, the homeowners on either side of the road will tend to crowd into it unless there is a strong controlling power.  So only put in smooth, straight roads if city leaders can enforce and protect the road space.

Having major town roads that are 50’ wide is not unusual, and the streets could be wider if merchants drive cattle or other large beasts along them.  Commerce will take place in the street, with vendors setting up awnings and booths to attract the passers-by, so the street scene will be unlike most modern cities.

This city, Templeton, is predominantly a religious center.  So I wanted a processional way that led from the main gate up to the temple mount.  As I looked at that, I liked it so much I thought I’d add a similar one to go down to the docks.  I decided that I wanted to have strong encroachment on the roads.  Putting a single road along the top of the ridge completed the major processional planning:

I still need to put in the smaller roads, side streets, alleys, and all the places where interesting things happen.  But I will add these as I detail the districts.  For now we are just getting the overall structure of the city in place.

You can see below that I’ve put in some places of interest and colored the different districts.  I usually leave those colors in place for later – it makes it easier later to see where one ward starts and another leaves off.  Ideally, I want to know or have an idea where each of the major pieces of the city will go:

  • Political:  Courthouses, meeting halls, legislative bodies, and ruler’s palaces. (Blue).
  • Wealthy:  The powerful elite usually cluster in the best areas. (Orange)
  • Manufacturing:  If there are specialties of the city, it’s good to know where these will be at the start.  Dangerous or smelly trades, like fireworks production or tanning, will often be outside the walls, and never in the upper class parts of the city. (Dark Green)
  • Religion:  Temples, religious councils, shrines, and other holy places are critical for any city. (Yellow).  In Templeton, religious power is geographically concentrated in Temple Mount.
  • Artistic:  If there are street performers, they can appear in the market.  But more established arts need theaters, galleries, and museums. (Purple)
  • Military:  From the town guard to navy, army, and overall militia, military units need to live and train somewhere. (Red)
  • Education:  Most cities attract a university or other high-level place of learning. (Orange)
  • Commercial:  In addition to markets, place specific trades.  In medieval cities, often tradesmen band together in one specific part of the city. (Lt Green)
  • Entertainment:  Whether it’s chariot races, gladiator arenas, or parks for leisurely strolls, the people will need a way to relax and celebrate. (Pink)
  • Slums:  I usually include these as their own ward.  Almost every city has them, where people who are struggling to survive live.  Some will leave the slums to work elsewhere in the city, and others will earn a legitimate (or not) living in the slum. (Brown)

For other areas I use grey, and I leave white the areas that I haven’t decided on.  If there are two similar districts next to each other, I often combine them into a single larger ward.  Sometimes I will put a divider in the middle (to divide social levels).

After a few passes through, here are two views of the city:

This is just an early view.  Before I finish, I put in known inns and taverns, famous merchants, mad fortunetellers, and anything else that strikes my fancy.  Often the map becomes crowded with text.  I use Campaign Cartographer’s ability to zoom and hide to keep everything orderly.

One thing to keep in mind is that cities rarely grow following an overall plan.  We will talk more about this when we detail the districts.  For now, it’s just useful to think a little about the character of each district and what it might be like.

Here is what we have so far:

As you can see, my layout of the roads interacts pretty strongly with my drawings of the districts.   That’s not unusual for me.  I’ll usually do a couple of passes through the map, adjusting roads, adding new places of interest, and adjusting the wards, until I have something that works.  With Campaign Cartographer, it’s easy to adjust things as I go.

I’m almost done with my planning.  I’ve placed the major roads, and also included a few side roads where I thought they should be.  I haven’t included every alley and building yet, but that will come in the next version of the map.

I’ve also put notes into the map to remind myself of key points for later.  For instance, there is one place that the major processional road narrows and goes around a tight turn as it heads uphill.  Everyone will have to slow at this corner, and I can imagine processions piling up and crowding at the point.  So I labeled it “Blasphemy Turn” as the name by which the locals know it.  In a future article, we’ll show you how to convert all these text labels into a table of links that will take you directly to that part of the map.

If You Can’t Decide

Relax.  City building is rarely clean.  There is usually a kind of logic to a city, but for every logical rule for laying out a city, one can readily find exceptions.  Here are a few of my rules-of-thumb:

  • Markets generate lots of traffic and taxes for the city.  If there is space, markets should be inside the city.  If space is at a premium (as in Templeton), put markets outside, starting with the livestock market, which needs space and is messy.
  • Put political buildings in the power center of the city.
  • Low-value manufacturing will flourish where living is cheap (outside the walls and in lower parts of the city); high value manufacturing that is clean (like jewelry production) will flourish in nicer areas.  Locate smelly manufacturing (like tanning) as far away as practical.
  • Religions that are in power will be in the center of the town.  Religions out of favor will be on the outskirts or banned completely.
  • Arts & entertainment can go anywhere, with their character matching their surroundings.
  • Military buildings might be in the center of the city, but more likely tied to fortification or other points of strategic importance.
  • Commerce happens throughout the city, with merchants often living above their stores.

If none of this helps, wait to determine where most things are.  Put in a couple of monuments, or a key building or two, and stop.  You’ll have many chances to come back to add detail later.

Gaming Check Point

You now have a high-level map of the city.  It has all of the major attractions, it has the major districts of the city, and it has the major roads.  It makes it easy for you to answer questions like, “Where’s the Senate building?”, or “Which road do I take to the castle?” You could give this map to players whose characters are new to the city.  This is also a map you can use when characters ask someone to describe the city or tell them what it’s like.

In short, the information on the map so far should be common knowledge for anyone who’s been in the city for more than a few days.

So take a minute and look at the map.  Does it have the things that players will ask for?  Is it clear?

If you haven’t put names of points of interest (and maybe even if you have), it’s probably worthwhile to put a legend on the map.  That will give you an easy reference when someone asks about a place of interest.

Final Planning

At this point, the city is starting to take shape.  We have most of the major points of interest placed.  We know where the walls, roads, and districts are.  We know the lay of the land and what we need to map.

It is worth thinking a little bit now about the character of the city and what will make it unique.

The beliefs and culture of the inhabitants of a city determine its character.  If the people are inwardly or family-focused, city blocks will shut out the outside world and face inward toward courtyards and family areas.  If the people are group-focused and outwardly focused, family houses and blocks will provide ample access and visibility to passersby.

The strength of the city’s government will also determine the form and structure of its streets.  Every property-owner has an interest in expanding his property, and one tempting way to do this is to expand into the street or over the street.  If city government is not strong, streets will become increasingly narrow and overhung with second floors that extend over the street.

If you’re following along, you probably have a good-looking map already.  Hopefully, you also have a file full of adventure ideas.  In the next article, we will begin detailing a district, to put your great ideas on the map.