Making Maps: A City of Wonder

Twice now I’ve tackled various map-making problems. On January 16, I wrote about creating a world map. Then on January 28, I wrote about creating the map of a country. Today I’m going to talk about creating a city map and (bonus!) designing buildings for fictional worlds.

Both of these topics are meant to be simple overviews to help get you started. There are lots of books and articles out there if you want to get into more detail, but it also starts to get pretty technical. For the most part, if you use a bit of common sense and put some thought into it, you should be able to create a city (and/or building) with few problems.

To begin, I’ve chosen to create the city of Lerven this time around. It’s the capitol of Elgovina (which is the main country through which my novel takes place).

Lerven Overview

Each square is about 10 km across (with 5 squares equaling about 1 day’s travel if you’re walking). Kranar Lake, the Throat, and Maleuna Bay are the nearby geographic landmarks, with three towns within a day’s walk of the city. What does this mean for designing Lerven itself?

Well, it obviously needs to have a harbour of some sort, as it sits right on a bay. Additionally, the west side of the city is going to have more (and stronger) fortifications because it’s within a day’s travel of the Throat –the entrance to the Asdarant Mountains. Market areas will take up space near the north and east gates as that’s where the majority of trade and travellers are going to enter the city. The nearby lake means that there are going to be at least a few businesses that cater to people wanting to go camping and/or freshwater fishing. This is a quasi-medieval setting, so I imagine such activities are usually reserved for the wealthy or those with free time on their hands. As such, the businesses catering to them are probably “all inclusive” (they arrange the transportation, the lodgings, provide the equipment, and send one or more people with to clean and cook any fish caught).

CityscapeCoverAlready I have a good understanding of what (and where) stuff is going to be in Lerven. Other key areas that I need to place are going to include the castle (either right in the middle of the city, or on the north-east side), residential districts for the various wealth brackets, warehouse type district, somewhere for craftsmen to work, inns, non-market place stores, entertainment such as theatres and museums, barracks, armoury, etc.

When planning a city I like to refer to Cityscape, a D&D book that talks about how to design a city with a D&D game in mind. Not only does it talk about different types of cities (like a slaver city versus one built with military defence in mind), but it talks about the different districts you would expect to find in a city. Plus the different types of buildings each district would have.

While it isn’t 100% translatable, it is an amazing place to start. If you have access to a copy, I definitely recommend you check it out.

One final thing before I start drawing. Based on the above map you can see that Lerven is almost a full square across (though it’s straddling a graph line), but only about half a square tall. Due to the small scale of this map, I paid careful attention to how big I drew my cities, so I know I wanted it to be almost 10 km west to east, and about 5 km north to south. That’s pretty small for a city. To compare, Toronto is about 630 km2, with a population of 2,615,060 (Lerven has 13,162). That means for every square km in Toronto, there are 4,150 people –and only 263 in Lerven. According to Medieval Demographics Made Easy, that’s only a little less than what the population density of all of France was! Obviously this is a fairly sprawling and uncrowded city. Lots of parks, wide streets, and plenty of space for there to be a large barracks, the castle, and maybe a large church or two.

Lerven 1

Okay, so there’s my city outline. Each square is approximately 30 meters across, or 100 feet. While I tend to use metric for most things, once I start getting down to the individual building size I switch over to imperial. Partly because even in Canada this seems to be how a lot of blueprints for houses are written, and partly because of my background as a D&D player. (In D&D almost everything is measured in 5 foot distances)

So with those dimensions in mind, we know that a 1 km2 area is going to have somewhere between 31 large (50 x 50 feet) and 110 small (25 x 25 feet) buildings. Which, with our previously figured out population density means that if every building were a house there would be 2.4 – 8.5 people per house. If we say that about 1/3 of the buildings are businesses, parks, and other non-residential areas, then we need to have 3.6 – 12.7 people per building. This averages out to be 5.5 – 8.2 people per building. Either there are a lot of big families, or there are a fair number of multi-family homes.

But enough math.

The next step in drawing is to start placing the landmarks I know need to exist. For me, I like to start with the walls and gates. This lets me place where the main roads are going to be, and because of the harbour I’m going to go with a fairly straightforward four road intersection near the middle of the city.

Lerven 2

You can see that the walls are roughly 10 – 15 feet wide, with towers at every corner and flanking the roads in/out of the city. There is a main harbour, and a smaller one a little ways down. Right now the main roads are just rough lines to indicate their general path (I’m not expecting them to remain so straight).

In the past I’ve mentioned that inking is generally the last thing to do, especially if you aren’t used to creating maps. When it comes to maps like this where there is going to be a lot of small detail, I like to ink in stages. Unfortunately this doesn’t allow for changing your mind, but I find that if I don’t ink it this way (so as I finish sections), then I’m smudging pencil all over the place. So there are going to be areas where I lose the detail I worked so hard at. If you’re good about starting top left and working down to the bottom right (or top right to bottom left if you’re left-handed), then you might not need to do this. Me, I jump around as I work, even if I start out with that as my intention.

Once the walls, towers, piers, and shoreline are inked I like to start by building from the gates. I mentioned that the north and east gates enter into marketplaces, and because the west gate points towards the border, that’s where I’m going to put the barracks and army buildings. I know that there’s a clock tower where a proclamation happens in the book, so that makes sense to be placed at or near where the roads cross. Meaning the castle isn’t going to be in the centre of the city, but in the north-east area.

Lerven 3

(Note: it took me about 4 hours to progress from the previous scan to the above image)

You can see that I’ve inked in the areas I mentioned as my starting points, and then penciled in rough outlines of other areas. My city has no internal walls, except around the castle’s grounds, so it’s just rough blocking. If you were wanting to use walls between the different districts you should figure out the districts and their boundaries first (as at least some of those walls are going to connect with the exterior walls). I added a dotted line to indicate where the hidden criminal district is located (aka Diamond District).

Which is a semi-topical place to transition to a discussion of how to identify different areas. Depending on how fine a point your pen/marker has, how neat your writing is, and how ‘cluttered’ you want your map to be, you have a couple of different options. You can simply write the name of a district on a street or across the buildings in it (which I wouldn’t recommend unless the pen you use for your buildings is not black). You might want to use different colours to outline buildings (and then have a key that red buildings are part of X district/area/zone). You can number buildings and have a key that numbers X-Y are in Z district/area/zone (this is also helpful if you need to make a note of which buildings are specific locations). You can create a multi-layer map using clear sheets (like a page protector, the plastic used with overhead projectors, etc.) where the map is left unadorned and the top layer has all this extra information (so you can remove it if it’s proving to be too cluttered). You can also use a mix of the above methods.

Myself, I’m going to use coloured markers to outline the different districts (which will not always line up with the pencil marks), number certain buildings, and write street names on the main roads. Generally with this type of map, once I have the generic things down in pencil, I do it all in pen. You’ll notice in the below images that my lines aren’t always straight, and if you look closely you’ll see a couple spots where I messed up, but because it’s pen I had to work the mistakes into the map. (The following images were scanned approximately every two hours.)

Lerven 4Lerven 5

Lerven 6

And that’s the city of Lerven. You can see that once I got started, the map making picked up speed. Partly that’s experience and a matter of practice, but it’s also just partly that as you work you get into a rhythm of how and where to place buildings. Now that the city is done, it’s time to (quickly) show you how to design a building.

There are a couple methods, and it depends a little on how much research you want to do. If you want a highly accurate building then you’re going to need to not only research the dimensions of various types of furniture, but also the style and dimensions of architecture from a similar time period. This is a bit of sliding scale with tons of research (but highly accurate) on one end, and hardly any research (and not super accurate, but serviceable) on the other. I think of that scale as Realistic vs. D&D style blueprints. What you use is up to you, but here are some things to keep in mind regardless of what style you’re using.

  • If it’s a house, there needs to be somewhere for everyone to sleep, and a place for everyone that is their own
    • Even if they share rooms, they’ll have half a bed, a closet, a chest, a box, or a shelf that is theirs. Despite being social creatures, humans need to be able to have something that is only theirs (and if you have siblings you’ll know how angry it can make someone if one of their personal things are taken without permission)
  • Houses need to have a kitchen area, a bathing area, a dining area, and a general living room. These ‘rooms’ can all be the same room, or they can be separate.
    • If it’s a general purpose/multi-use room, remember that it can’t function as all of the uses at the same time. Furniture and items that are only sometimes used (e.g., a tub) would be left in storage somewhere until needed. This might mean a basement, closet, attic, or the item(s) could be hanging from a wall or the ceiling.
    • A house needs a minimum of two rooms. An apartment could make do with a single room. Both instances would not support a large number of inhabitants though. I’d say 4 at the most. Any family larger than that would need more space –which might mean that kids have to work in poor families.
  • Businesses need to have a minimum of two rooms. One for the ‘public’ (e.g., store front, receptionist’s area, waiting room, etc.), and one for the business’s private use (e.g., storage, office, meeting room, etc.)
  • Pay attention not only to how much space the furniture takes up, but how much space is required to simply walk around items.
    • You can make do with 2 feet of walking room (for an adult), but it’s going to be very cramped and they’re going to bump into things fairly often. “Standard” is 3 feet (which is a narrow hallway). Once you get up to 4 feet or more you’re starting in on the “luxury” side of things.
    • Make note of things that stack, tuck under, fold in, or nest. Stools or a bench can be tucked under a table when not in use, and therefore give 1 foot (or more) of extra space. Though murphy beds were first invented around 1900, you might find such space-saving furniture to be useful if you’re trying to plan out a small building.
      • To help place the time period that the murphy bed was invented: the Victorian era ended 1901; World War I was from 1914-1918, and World War II 1939-1945.
  • You don’t have to account for wall widths (they’re almost never taken into account in D&D building maps), but if you’re going for accuracy, you should allow for at least 4 inches. You might find that drawing buildings at a scale of 4 or 3 feet works best with accurate drawings, while drawing at a scale of 5 feet makes it quicker when calculating distances and square footage (5 foot squares are standard in D&D).

A quick generic run-down of how I draw a building goes as follows.

  1. Draw exterior dimensions
  2. Place door(s)
  3. Plan rough dimensions of rooms
  4. Place stairs (if needed)
  5. Plan rough layout of furniture
  6. Adjust furniture and room dimensions as needed
  7. Ink

The following three images are all “blueprints” for the same house. Despite being small (roughly 16 x 16 feet), it would have belonged to a middle class family with a decent income. After all, they not only have a dedicated bathing room (first floor), but also a dedicated chamber pot room (third floor), plus four bedrooms, two sitting rooms, and a “family” room. The images go from least to most detailed.





3 thoughts on “Making Maps: A City of Wonder

  1. Pingback: Making Maps: Country Details | Scribbles in the Margins

  2. Pingback: Why Should I Build a World? | Scribbles in the Margins

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