Make your map interesting

One of the hardest things when you map is to make your map interesting to look at. What exactly is it that takes a map from good loking to exciting to look at? I claim in no way that I have a universal solution to that problem but I do have some ideas that I try to follow when I make my maps.

First of all I usually take inspiration from real life maps and locations. This tend to make the maps more belivable. I think that if you base your city on real life locations it will give the city a layout that we recognize, even though we don’t know anything about city planning, and in recognition you find beliving. The same goes for world maps and dungeon maps. Always try to base them on the real world. In this I don’t mean to just copy the real world completely, but more to find inspiration in it and try to put some of that inspiration in the map.

Secondly I try to make a story around the map. If I’m mapping a village for example I usually try to think about where it is situated, why did people move there? Is it a safe area? What do people live of? How do they treat strangers? The idea here is to get some background of the place you’re mapping, this will make it easier for you to create something that in the end will turn out more interesting and belivable to lookt at. Let us look at a village I’ve made to explain this a bit further.

This is Alvhem a small village near a forest south of the great town Ankh-Bathor.

Villages are founded in places where people meet for one ore more reasons. When I made this map I had a map of the country Ankh-Bathor to start from. Here I’d placed likely locations for villages and cities. Places where people stopped for commerce, production and in some cases to sleep before continuing there jorney the next day. In the map below you can see Alvhem in the small red circle.

As you can see on the overview map Alvehem is situated on the edge of a forest just where two rivers combine into a larger one. You also have a small road that leads from Kärrsjö to Bäckanäs that pass through Alvhem. So the backround info here is that the small town was founded because from here you could harvest wood, hunt for skins, find some rest and fish in the river. So it is a very good spot to build a small village. The village will probably not grow into a town because it lies in the outskirts so no bigger trade goes through here,

Also the closenes to the hills and the marsh makes it an ideal place as a starting point for adventures. What is the lights you see in the marsh during nights? Where did the old miner dissapear after going in to the hills?

But back to the village map. I started the village by drawing a crossroads and then puting in some houses. The best place to defend is probably the middle ground between the bridges so here I filled in som more houses. I also decide to place a temple on the north edge where the rivers combine, probably a temple for some river/sea god/godess. I also put in a large bulding in the middle of the village by the square, an inn for tired travellers to have some food and drink in.

I continue to fill in houses this way, by thinking about what the need for the village is. After a while you will have a nice litle village that looks very belivable. But it won’t be very interesting. You need something more. Now is the time to fill in the litle extra.

To get it interesting you need to have something that breaks the pattern of the map. Something that doesn’t follow what is expected. It doesn’t need to be much, just some small thing. In this particular map I’ve added a small temple in the forest slightly outside the village. This building will draw attention to it self because it is a part of the village but at the same time it is situated slightly outside of it.

I probably could have put in some more things, but be warned less is often more as they say. So after having added the forrest temple I was satisfied and called the map done.

In the end some words about the tools I used for the maps in this post:
The village of Alvhem is done i City Designer 3 from Profantasy. A great litle tool I really recommend to anyone that likes to make village/town/city maps.
The overland map is done in Phtoshop CS5.

I hope you enjoyed the post and that you maybe learned a bit or two about how I try to think  when I’m making a map. Maybe it wont work for everyone, but it works fine for me.


2 thoughts on “Make your map interesting

  1. Amen brother! I’m so glad to see that someone uses the same sites, method, construction I do. Ah, kindred spirits! Cartoguild is waaaaay awesome, these are by far my favs so far:
    When I first got into mapping I impulse purchased CC3 but I could never get the CAD based feel for it. Now you make me want to run out and buy CD3 – thanks a lot. I too try to base as much “real world” as I can in mapping – climate, weather, longitude and latitude, etc. I super rely on names (I like to think Tolkien and I share a bond there) because if I don’t know what it called or why or who first called it that, I feel the story will have holes.
    Thanks for the mention/link! Tit for tat, I’m now officially following you. Now I must go update my blog with photos of my nerdatorium.

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