Content of the article: "My advice: Draw your city maps mainly for function, not for form, prettiness or style."
I used to draw city maps with the intention to make them look pretty. Lot's of tiny roofs from a bird's-eye view which looked awesome. But their usefulness was… limited. I have the same feelings about many official maps found in 5e adventures. They look pretty, but the only buildings that are actually named are the important ones and there are tons of little houses without names or numbers.
A few months ago I was inspired by an old post from /u/FamousHippopotamus where he showed off his many maps and documents. (If someone finds the link I'll edit it in here). Hippo drew his city's buildings very large. Big enough to write in. This saves a huge amount of time normally spent looking up numbers in you legend. It also allows you to name streets and squares right there on your map.
His style was very functional and reminded me of subway maps in the way that the locations and scale of the buildings didn't seem to be exact representations of the city. I wanted to marry his style with 'realistically' shaped city maps, so that's what I set out to do.
Words are just words though, so let me show you a few maps I made in the past months.
This is Gihojon. It is built upon an ancient chrashed flying city with strangely polygonal architecture. 6 towers still stand and have been repurposed by the current inhabitants. Most other structures are built fairly recently. But let's get back to the point.
As you can see many buildings don't have a name yet. These can be named during sessions as necessary. Grunk's Tats for instance is one I created during a recent session because a player was looking for a tattoo parlor.
Another interesting element is the naming of streets or areas and numbering the houses. This works the same as in real life. An NPC might say they live at number 12 in the Maze.
Here's another example of a smaller town. This one is an excellent example of why you should do this using pencil. My players burned down the Inn and killed the leader (Thomas Smeckle) so many of the buildings will be renamed or erased entirely.
You can also use smaller sized paper using the same principle but I have to warn you: It can be really annoying to write that tiny. Here's an example.
As for what I can say about the process: I use 2 different approaches. The first approach is just to start drawing with a ruler and pencil and make nice (big!) shapes. All the while thinking about what they possibly could be and how streets would wind between them. The other approach is writing down a list with all possible buildings that I want in this city. I switch between both approaches freely and often. For me this works best. One last tip: Draw lightly at first. There's going to be soooo much erasing.
All in all I can recommend this style wholeheartedly. It's extremely useful and my players loved using the map to see where they wanted to go. And as a bonus I think most of them turned out pretty even though that wasn't the main intention.
Questions are welcome!
- Make simple, useful maps that your players can use all the time.
- How can I handle setting up this plot hook without railroading the players towards a failure, or is this acceptable because the loss is not the player’s fault?
- night city map // v.04 (wip)
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