Welcome back to this article series on mapping as worldbuilding for large cities and towns. In the last article in this series, we covered developing the geographical setting for your city, identifying the main purpose or economy of the city, dividing it into districts, deciding between functional and residential districts, and we even talked a little bit about transportation. Recall that by way of example, I’ve been mostly using the city of New Cassia which I recently mapped as a means of illustration of the ideas here.

In this article, I’d like to cover some more about ways to go about laying out the canvas for your city by exploring textures, terrains and landmarks. We’ll apply this to district building next, and in a later article we’ll go into some more of the technical pieces on how to actually construct each district in CC3+ but for now we’ll stick with planning as it relates to storytelling and worldbuilding.

The most important piece to start with: in general, work on your city one district at a time. Doing so provides cohesiveness in what you’re working on, and also gives you a concrete deliverable that you can complete and then take a break. I like to do a nice quality export of each district I finish as a milestone marker to record my progress over time, as well as share with the CC3 community for any feedback.

We last left New Cassia with some districts and main roads.

Road Types, Sizes and Materials

In the previous article, we ended with defining the major thoroughfares of our city. Let’s cover that in a bit more detail. Not all roads in a city are the same size in most cities you could probably think of, so thoroughfares are the largest of these roads. Depending on the scale of your city, these may be 10′ or 20′ wide (using Imperial measurements, but applicable with the equivalent metric sizes as well). New Cassia is a large city, so its main thoroughfares will be 20′ wide; this will visually stand out as well as define the routes the city’s inhabitants will take for most navigation.

Stepping stones in a Pompeii street

Stepping stones in a Pompeii street

We also need to decide the material of these main roads: are they wide, paved cobblestone walkways? Are they well-entrenched dirt roads? Are they waterways with sidewalks, such as in Pompeii? Or are they other textures like mud, grass, sand or even more exotic materials like lava, water, or sludge? This decision point can have an easy to miss but significant effect on the story and history of your city.

Exotic lava roads in WotC’s City of Brass

Exotic lava roads in WotC’s City of Brass

Also, keep in mind, not all roads in a city need to be the same; you can mix stone, dirt and exotic roads along with varying sizes (I like to swap out stone roads for dirt in poorer residential areas). You can also think about which areas will have no roads at all. Roads are all about access; poor quality or no roads will usually lead to less access to an area. Maybe this is to keep outsiders out (or undesirables in), or maybe the government can’t be bothered to pave an older, decrepit neighborhood.

Keeping a Microdecision Log for Inspiration

Think about the implications of each microdecision. If your main roads are sludge, that suggests a sewer-dwelling city, or perhaps the Underdark. Do people use boats or rafts to traverse them, or do they walk on foot? Each of these questions can lead to interesting story developments, like defining the daily experience of a resident (or visitor, which may differ) or leading to questions about why it is that way, or how commonplace non-walking modes of transportation are.

Each time you make one of these microdecisions, you can write down a question or two about it. For each mapping session, you’ll build up a short or medium list of questions. You can then ponder these in between mapping sessions. You don’t need to answer all or even most of them, but each answer will flesh out your world. You can come back to sticky questions that keep coming up, or discard them and move on.

So hopefully now we’ve at least decided on our main roads, and maybe even begun to ruminate on other road styles throughout the city. Great job! Now we can turn our attention to individual sections of the city.

Constructing our First Landmark

As a warm up exercise to district building, let’s do our first exercise in landmark construction. I recommend thinking about what the most defining building is going to be in your whole city. You figure out what “defining” means to you – it could be culturally, religiously, politically or economically. In some cases this might be a seat of government – a keep, a castle, a mayoral palace, a parliamentary house or any other such building. Sometimes a city may be oriented around this place; other times it might be at the city edge, and still others may have accidentally evolved the location of this building. These are all okay, but are microdecisions worth writing down and maybe asking yourself questions about.

Mages Academy

Sapphire Citadel, home of the Mages’ Academy, is one of the most notable landmarks in New Cassia.

Once you’ve identified this building and a suitable location, build it! Whether it is a symbol (we’ll talk more about symbols later) or some more custom construction, orienting around it will get you a feel for what characteristics you want to demonstrate. Don’t be shy about experimenting – place something, delete it, try again, change size and color…try things out until it seems right to you. And even if you need to settle for good enough, you can always come back to it and redo it easily.

Now you’ve built or placed one building. Think about what supporting buildings may surround it, and place those. A keep may have additional administrative offices around it. A military training facility may have barracks nearby. A mages’ academy may have a library nearby. Or, maybe you’ll decide this building is solitary: a grand wizard’s tower at the peak of a tall hill, with nothing else daring to surround it!

Sapphire Citadel

The Sapphire Citadel, with some supporting academic buildings and the Great Library of Ytron. Notice how the mix of grassy terrain gives more depth to the district. Also note the dirt path mixed with stone roads.

Terrain Surrounding the Landmark

Think about what terrain you expect to surround the main building. A castle may be built atop paved stone; a monument to a town’s founder may be in the heart of a central park, surrounded by grass and dirt roads; a demon’s spire may be surrounded by a lava most. Now place that.

As you’re placing the terrain and supporting buildings, ask yourself a question or two (not too many, we don’t want to rathole on this) about why they are there or what their nature is. If something (or even better, someone) interesting pops up, write that down somewhere.

Now, one finishing touch: label it! Just plop some text down on or near it with either a name (if you’ve got one; if not, you can punt on that till later) or a short description to remind you of what it is and why it’s there. Note: you do not have to do this on your main TEXT sheet; you can create another one such as TEXT ANNOTATIONS that you can use just for your own notes and labels about notable buildings. This sheet can be hidden during your final export if you don’t want to show them (we’ll talk about labeling towards the end of the series). But recalling the purpose and name of each place can help us build up stories in our city.

Congratulations! You’ve just constructed your first (and most important) landmark! We’ll be going through this process a bunch, but hopefully you’ve learned a few things from doing this:

  1. It’s okay to experiment, sometimes extensively. We’ll develop ways to keep this from ballooning too much all over the city.
  2. The process of building a landmark does not have to be scary, and can be as simple as a few local decisions.
  3. A landmark can help define the area around itself, such as the terrain and the nearby roads. We’ll need this as we build up our districts.
  4. Noting down random thoughts about why a building is where it is can lead to interesting story hooks.
  5. Textures, terrains and materials can define a lot of character, history and culture about an area.

Next time, I hope to cover planning each district, and discuss how to make each district unique stylistically and feature-wise (including landmarks!).

Ari Gilder is a software engineer, and has been interested in maps for a long time. He spent seven years working on Google Maps, working on features like local business search, Google Maps and Navigation on mobile, and studying the way users understand maps. He even proposed to his wife using maps. He often spends hours staring at maps in fantasy novels, and in 2013 starting putting together some of his own dungeon and battle maps for a D&D campaign. After a hiatus of several years, he recently dived back into cartography with CC3+, tackling more overland and city maps in preparation for a new D&D campaign. He is a father of two, and has recently introduced his older daughter to cartography, both hand-drawn and with CC3+ where she insists that black and purple varicolor trees must surround everything.

The Town of AbbasiBringing Your City to Life – Part 1
By Ari Gilder

Recently, I completed a large-scale city map over the course of about three months. It is only my second map with City Designer 3, so I am by no means an expert, but between the two maps I’ve recently spent a lot of hours with the tools, learning some of the ins and outs of the how as well as the why.

Both of the cities (well, one city and one town) I’ve built have been quite large for their size. I’d specifically like to consider these kinds of settlements, as opposed to a quaint fishing village or a small farming hamlet. Because these are smaller settlements, by definition less time will go into them. Also, when I was doing my research on how to start mapping a large city or town, I found very few resources on how to tackle such an ambitious project. Continue reading »

CA151 CrownportThe July Annual is now ready for download and installation from the registration page, if you have subscribed to it.

This month Pär Lindström gives us a new style – “Renaissance City” – based on a renaissance-era city map of Paris. Creating the example map for the style was very easy and straightforward and we think you’ll find it equally satisfying to use. Thanks Pär, for another great style!

If you haven’t done so already, you can subscribe to the Annual 2019 here. If you are already subscribed, the July issue is available for download on your registration page now.

CA126 FellhavenThe June Annual is not the only new download available now from your registration page – you can also download the Random City command by Lee Saunders for CC3+ from the same place. Coincidence? Hardly!

For the Annual we’ve created a lengthy tutorial on how to use the Random City command and what to do to customize and enhance the maps the command creates for you. That way you can quickly create a base map and continue to map the city after that as far as you like.

The Random City command was originally created for use with City Designer 3 and is listed separately under CD3’s downloads. But it is also included in the June Annual download, and if you do not own CD3, you can use it with the basic city style in CC3+.

In addition to the Random City command itself, the June Annual contains a 9-page tutorial and 2 example maps created with the command, one done with City Designer 3, the other with CC3+ alone.

The issue is now available for CC3+ from the registration page for all subscribers. If you haven’t subscribed to the Annual 2017 yet, you can do so here.

City Designer 3 is now compatible with CC3+, and to celebrate, here is a round-of maps, tutorials and resources for cities.



You can create a wide range of cities and urban areas with CC3 and its add-ons and symbol sets. This article shows you a selection, and the software you need to create them.

City Designer 3 is (unsurprisingly) the best resource for urban areas – the following examples were created with CD3.

DSA Castle

This is from the Annual Vol 5 – a 1930s style map.

a This map was created with the black and white city style released in the Annual Vol 4

Two styles in one, here in the Annual Vol 1. One is remininiscent of 18th to 19th century maps, while the second creates the look of contemporary street maps.

This map emulates the famous town and city maps of British cartographer John Speed (1542-1629). It was created with the John Speed City style from The Cartographer’s Annual Vol 1.

This style from the Annual Vol 3 does not require City Designer 3


Up to now we’ve mostly been working inside the city walls, where space is short and buildings necessarily packed

Historic map of Oxford in 1643 showing buildings near city gates

Historic map of Oxford in 1643

closely together.  We’re now going to turn to the area outside the walls.  In this installment, we’re going to turn back to some theory.

First we need to talk about why businesses decide to set up outside the walls of the city.  After all, they are forgoing the protection that walls bring, so there must be some good reasons for it.  It turns out the reasons are pretty simple:

  • Avoiding authority:  This is monetary, avoiding taxes, but also includes regulation, attention of the town watch, even to avoiding the prying eyes of neighbors.  The city’s authority ends with the city walls, and some people find their business flourishes where there is less oversight.
  • Accessing markets:  Gates into the city are notorious choke points for people entering the city.  The gates typically only open at certain times, guards ask questions, and just the physical size of the gate all conspire to leave large numbers of people waiting outside to get in.  And where there are large numbers of people waiting or stranded, there is money to be made selling goods and services to them.
  • Space:  In many cities, space is at a premium.  So businesses that require lots of space such as cattle markets, or that need space from neighbors, such as tanners, will often set up outside the city walls.
Historic map of Bristol in 1582

Historic map of Bristol in 1582

What this leads to is a mini city just outside the city walls, where crowds are most likely to form.  This is where taverns and inns, and potentially more reputable shops can be found as well.

As you move away from the gate, more space opens up and larger markets and establishments have more room.  Typically these spread out along the main roads leading away from the gate.  Over time, some side roads may form if the population of the city continues to grow.

You might guess that citizens of the city are unlikely to approve of markets being established outside their walls.  They will object to being undercut on price, object to the less savory businesses that occur outside the walls, and complain about customers journeying to their city experiencing the underside of the city before coming through the gates.

Over time, as the city outside the gates grows, the city will expand its limits to incorporate land outside the walls.  Then the pressure will grow to expand the walls to encompass the new land.  Once funds can be raised to build the wall, the city will expand and cannibalize the old walls.




First buildings added along road

First buildings with effects on

Ok, we’re going to spend time today filling in a block section with houses.  We’re going to be using the House command from CD3 extensively, so you should be an expert in it once we’re done.

The house command is in the House toolupper left corner of your toolbar and looks like a roof seen from  the top – a screen shot is to the right (you can see the “House” tooltip as well):






We won’t spend a lot of time going through the different options, but I recommend that you review two sections of the online help (Help>Search):

  • House Shapes:  Good information about what each shaped house is, and the order CC3 expects corner points to be placed.  Generally you will place two points that define the long axis of the roof, but the interpretation of the third point varies from shape to shape.
  • Roof Types:  Gables and styles of roofs.

Scrolls through the House settings part of the dialog to look at available styles.  I recommend that once you have found a style you like, place one or two buildings and scroll out until the map is roughly the size that you will use.  Some of the house styles have wonderful detail that looks great in-close, but which compresses to a black blob when you scroll out a long way.

I’m using the CD3 B Fantasy varicolor symbols.  The roof lines look great at medium resolution, and I plan to not show the individual buildings when I am using a city-wide map.  Varicolor means that the building will pick up the currently selected color – this gives you flexibility to change colors periodically to add some needed variation to the buildings.

Start with rectangular buildings – they are most common in real houses, and easiest to place.

City block in progress, almost done

City block almost completely filled in

I like moving along a major road, placing one building after another.  Here are some tips:

  • For a medieval city, don’t worry too much about getting each building front exactly lined up with the buildings next to it – there will be variations in real life.  But do use the “Parallel To (F11)” and “Perpendicular to (F12)” snaps (Tools>Snaps) to ensure that buildings square to the road or to each other.
  • The roof line will run parallel to the first side you draw – so for most buildings you will want to put your first point at the street and the second point well back from the street so that the line is perpendicular to the street (the F12 snap is made for this – put your first point, press F12 and select the edge of the street, now your next point is constrained so the wall must be perpendicular to that street).
  • If you are using varicolor symbols, set the color slightly darker than your landmark buildings and change the color a little from time to time.  It will give your city a subtle but more realistic look.
  • Use a small number of building types and roof types – it will make the city look more cohesive.
  • Every building will need access to the road.  Better establishments should have two ways to get to the road (e.g. a front door for visitors and a back door for trash and other things).  Access can be circuitous, through an alley, but a building can’t be used if no one can get to it.  But don’t worry too much if you block access to an occasional building.  You have several ways to explain it:
    • The building is no longer used.
    • The building has been annexed (one of the adjoining buildings is connected through to it) or is associated with one of the nearby buildings and is accessed through it.
    • There is a passageway – a covered street or entryway leads to the blocked building, the passage is just not visible on the map because it is under the other building’s roof.
    • Block with buildings filled in
                                                Block with buildings filled in, some details and effects on

      Work a little way down the street, then put a gap in the buildings.  This will be aplace for an alley.  Start putting buildings away from the street to continue defining that alley.

    • If you followed the approach of roughing out each block, eventually you will find a situation where you have an irregular space.  This is the perfect place for a V-shaped, Skewed rectangle (called a four-sided building in the dialog), or a many-sided building.   These buildings are infrequent in a real city, so see if you can find a way to fill the space with one or more rectangular buildings. But if not, enjoy placing these unique buildings.
    • Do put in occasional squares and open spaces, whether they have trees in them or not.  Even if these are in back alleys, they will visually break up the city sections.
    • Save often.  I like to use “Save As” with a file name that ends with a number – each time I save I add one to the trailing number.  That way if something goes wrong (artistically or technically), I have something to return to.  Save often enough that you could endure losing work, e.g. if you can endure losing your last 15 minutes of work, you can back up every 15 minutes.

Next time we will fill in a few more details in this section and talk about rendering effects – they turn the most mundane map into something wonderful.  Then for a break we will turn to mapping some sections outside the city wall, where the CD3 automatic tools really can shine.