... now with 35% more arrogance!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Lankhmar and Urban Geomorph Ideas

Instead of Map Monday, this Monday I’m going to follow up on the Lankhmar review I did last week. There was a reason why I did it. I’ve been having some thoughts about how I should do town and city maps.

You see, the published town and city maps I’ve seen that take the fully-mapped, fully-keyed approach, like Carse or Tulan of the Isles, don’t quite meet the quality I’m looking for in a city map. It’s not that there is anything necessarily bad about them. I keep mentioned Carse because I do like the way the map looks, with its little 3d buildings. And the locations described in those products can be pretty good. But keying all the encounters and locations for an entire town, let alone for a city, just seems like a tedious way to present it. You’d have to study the book thoroughly to find out all the hidden conflicts, secrets, and schemes it contains, and to familiarize yourself with where all the shops and services of various varieties are located, or provide some really, really detailed cross-references, the kind I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a published product.

That’s why I prefer only keying a few important locations at the start and creating a more general map of a city, which I can fill as needed using improv rules, like the rules I’ve already written about here. That’s why Lankhmar, City of Adventure, despite a few flaws that make it kind of unwieldy, still interests me. It’s that promise of “Just-In-Time” mapping that pulls me in.

And it’s what’s leading me towards a certain solution. I already have a plan for Last-Minute Cities, a compilation and expansion of my improv town and city rules. But I think urban geomorphs may also be part of the answer. And it’s something I’ve been trying out already. This map is a draft version of one I’ve been working on. When finished, and when I add more urban geomorphs, GMs will be able to drop them into a Lankhmar-like city map with blank spots for geomorphs… or, I’m thinking, replacing city blocks on other maps that were never designed to use geomorphs.

Remember Revelode? It’s a town with a few keyed locations, but mostly just unlabeled buidlings. Suppose you took a block of 3 to 6 building and replaced it with that geomorph? It would be a quick customization. And if there were a map key available for that geomorph, it would be an on-the-spot solution to quickly filling in an urban adventure area. Of course, there are aesthetic differences between that geomorph and the maps in the Instant Village series. But that’s not insurmountable…

Expect to see more on this soon.


  1. Sounds great; I've always loved the urban geomorphs from Lankhmar. I noticed that your example picture has shadows, which help it look 3D, but which might look odd if rotated in a map if they're going a different direction from the surrounding map.

    1. For the project I'm working on right now, that map is meant for GM reference, so the shadows are only for aesthetics and as a clue to building height.

      However, for a set of geomorphs meant to be placed on a player map, I can easily create four orientations. It takes something like 30-60 seconds per orientation.

      In fact, for my early experiments I saved all four orientations, which is how I know it's easy to do. I decided to go with this pic as a teaser for the project, rather than the older pics that I felt were less polished.

  2. I've always loved fantasy cities, and have slavishly collected those Lankhmar supplements. But, I've found I have no idea how to use city maps in actual play. If I have a map with houses on it, trying to describe how it looks and what are where is not feasible.

    While looking up everything in a keyed city is just too slow, like you have already noted, I'm not sure I could make it work even with smaller geomorph sections either. It would be so much of a boardgame suddenly, even if I just had to describe and remember a four by four house section.

    One day I hope to read someone describe how they do it, and make it work for myself.

    1. I tend to deal in generalities, myself. How many houses do the PCs see, what's the general condition of the house, is it large or small. I think trying to describe a city as if the PCs were mapping it like a dungeon, complete with measurements, would be a huge mistake.

      But a lot depends on the situation. Is there a combat? Are the PCs thieves choosing a house to rob? Are they just trying to find a particular NPC, or on a shopping spree?

      But then, I hope I made it clear in my various town and city posts that I lean towards improv city play. I don't describe the map in detail. I use it as a prompt to answer questions, if the players have any.

      Maybe I should write a post about different situations in city play and how i think they should be described.