... now with 35% more arrogance!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Putting It on the Map

cleaned-up scan of Ringhill Keep
You may remember not too long ago I posted a scan of a hand-drawn town map, Ringhill Keep. That map wasn't just because I wanted to get back into drawing again (but I do) or to test the camera scan app on my tablet (although I did.)

When I saw Dyson's city maps, I thought "I like that style, but how would you label the map so that you knew where everything was?" And, since I was also thinking about various things I've said about improvising settlements with just a few sketchy notes, I had some ideas on how I might mark up a Dyson-style city map... but I doubted he would grant permission to re-publish a derivative of one of his maps, so I just went ahead and drew one of my own, for experimental purposes.

Ringhill Keep, GM's marked copy
What I had in mind was something like this: almost all the details of an improvised town/city come from a single dice rating: 1d6 for villages, 2d6 for towns, 3d6 or more for cities, with large versions of each getting a +1 modifier. This dice rating gives us the number of trades, the roll for the number of hirelings available per week, and, by dropping one or two dice, other numbers like the number taverns, inns, churches, and NPCs active in each trade. We can write this directly on the GM version of the map, plus any sketchy details about the town's nature.

So, on this labeled version of Ringhill Keep, I've marked the main watchtowers and the keep. I've also drawn lines separating the three main quarters of the town (the fourth quarter is technically the watchtowers themselves.) I've labeled the quarters N for Noble (in this case, just the wealthy merchants and landowners,) T for Trades (shops and craftsmen available,) and C for Common (farmers and laborers.)

If we did this in a simple format similar to the one-page dungeons, with the map in the upper left, we could add a town encounter table along the side and record notes about the town below, as we improvise them. Our first couple entries would be the names and rates of the tavern and inn that service the town, since this will almost always be useful and happen to be one of the main reason's for the town's continued existence. But how do we note the location without cluttering up the map?

We can use clock directions from some landmark. In this case, the tavern is at about 7 o'clock relative to the West Tower; it's the L-shaped building on the southwest side of the hill, north side of the road. So, our notes would say "Green Goblet Tavern (West Tower, 7:00)" plus whatever else we need quick reminders for: barkeep's name, price modifications, etc. The inn is near the NE Tower, 8 o'clock.

Houses and shops can be noted in the same way relative to the letter labeling the quarter. "T 3:00" is on the east side of the big T, just along the border of the Trades quarter and the neighborhood around the Keep. "T 6:00, 2nd building" is not the small building due south of the T, but the larger building south of that, at the major intersection.


  1. Oh, but how do you notice that the players pass on by the inn, if they aimlessly wander about town? That would be somewhat hard to notice...

    1. How, exactly, are your players wandering aimlessly? Are they pointing at the player copy of the map and saying "we gover here"?

    2. I just saw this, late reply: In fact, they do... sometimes. When they search for something they only have sketchy directions to, for example, or to indicate wich way to this or that place they take.