Where cities grow

One of the things I like most with making maps is when you have to decide where your different countries and cities will be placed. But how can you do this in a convincing way? Where shall you put your cities? As always we have to look at our own history and learn.

If you look back in our history nearly all early cities started out close to water. Before we had good roads waterways were the highways for travel and transportation. To be able to start up a city you needed a surplus of goods and food, so not everyone needed to work. So that some people in the community could start doing the administrative tasks to keep it all together. Living close to water made those things easier to happen.

When that happens a smaller tribal village can evolve into something larger, a city, and in the end a great kingdom or empire. Of course this description is very simplified, but still you can say that this is the foundation behind the growth of a society. Maybe you have to add in things like learning to write, minting coins and technological advancements in building techniques. But without a surplus in production those other things will never kick off.

So how can you use this knowledge in your mapping?. Well when I make my maps I usually wait to plot out borders for countries and their cities until all the terrain is done. When the terrain is done I try to locate places in the map where larger cities might lie. If you look at the example map below I’ve marked out some locations with red circles. Those places are where I probably would put the larger cities in the map.

Example 1

But not all cities are located close to water, so where should you put the rest of the cities?. To find out this the next thing to do is to draw roads between the large cities. When you’re done have a look at the map for crossroads, crossroads are typical places for a city or town. A place where people travelling to and from different locations meet, and goods can be sold. In the example map below I’ve added some roads and cities at the crossroads.

Example 2

We now have a good base for our kingdom with some logically planned cities and towns. Next step is to continue adding in more towns, but this time towns that might not feel logically placed in the beginning. When a kingdom continue to evolve other more rare resources gets more and more important, like gold, silver, iron etc. Try to add towns in places close to where they can acquire resources for the kingdom. Also think of how the goods will be transported to the main towns. If you place a small town in the mountains where they mine silver and you have a river close by they would probably found another town next to the river so they easily can transport the silver, instead of transporting it all by the road. In the example map below I’ve added in some towns where they can collect resources.

Example 3

You can continue this way and add in more and more towns. After adding the towns you add in more roads, more roads means more crossroads that leads to more towns. If you try to build up your map this way the placing of your towns will feel logical which will give you a better and more believing map. And while mapping you might even come up with an idea or two for an adventure.

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Writing a world Bible

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When you make maps for a made up world you reach a point where you actually have to start to think about the world beyond the maps. What kind of world is it that you’re creating?

I’ve worked on my Etrakien world for about ten years, it’s been through a lot of different phases, things have been added and things have been thrown out. In the beginning it was more of a classic fantasy world with forests full of Trolls and Dwarves hiding under the mountains. But through the years the world has slowly changed in to what it is today. The problem however is that I’m not really sure of what exactly the world is like today.

A lot of my ideas and thoughts has been written done in different forms over the years. Some things I have on paper, some in different threads on forums where I’ve put up my maps for display, a couple of documents are on Google drive, still some on my hard drive. Some I’ve actually lost due to a hard drive crash some years ago.

So I felt that all this information had to be collected into one document, a world document for the Etrakien world where all the up to date information could be found. But how do you do this in the best way? What do you have to think of to make your world as believable as possible? Because I want my world to feel real, that if you read about it or play a game in it, it should feel plausible, like it could exist.

For a long time I’ve looked all over the Internet for information about world building, how do others do this? So far the best thing I’ve found has actually been the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding, a brilliant little document where different authors from the RPG gaming industry gives their view on how you create your own world.

This little gem gave me some great ideas on what to think of while writing about my Etrakien world. It covers some good essays on world design, creating religion, magic, technology etc. Everything you need to be set up for a great start. Of course I also have some ideas of my own, but this guide has really helped me to put my ideas together.

So I decided to start with a blank document titled “The Etrakien world”, or to be more precise “Den Etrakiska världen”, because I’m writing it in Swedish, and in that document collect all the information I have that I want to keep together with new things I come up with.

First of all I tried to think of what is different with the Etrakien world compared with our world. A lot of things are alike, after all the world is based on my knowledge of the classic Rome and Greece, mixed up with some influences from the Hansa and medieval Europe. It includes mainly humans, like us and they like to wage war, make love, be rich and just survive for another day. So what is different and how would that affect the world?

First of all there are two other known humanoid races, one that mostly is seen as a slave by the others and the other is more equal to the humans, or in their own eyes superior. How will a world that has enslaved nearly everyone of a humanoid race develop ideologically? Will it become like Germany during Second World War that divided people in “Untermenschen” and “Übermenschen”? Does everyone in the world think that is ok?

There is also magic in the Etrakien world, or mostly there is magic that is wielded by the priests and clerics of the different religions. How will a world where the priests actually can perform miracles through powers they have been given by their gods look? In medieval times the church had the European population in a tight grip without being able to perform any real miracles. What will happen if some priests really can bring people back from the dead or heal wounds etc. What kind of power will they have in the world? And what happens if someone that’s not a priest learns magic? Will they be persecuted like the witches in our own history, that didn’t even know how to do real magic?

As you can see the questions are many, but I feel I have to get them down on paper. As I’ve said before, if you have a story to your map it will be much easier to get a great result that looks believing, because then your map will tell a story and not just be a flat picture of land, sea and mountains. And by writing my World Bible, as Scott Hungerford calls it in his essay in the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding, I hope that I can achieve that. Maps that tells a story.