Perhaps one of the more daunting tasks a Dungeon Master must undertake is building maps in dungeons and dragons. As overwhelming as this may seem, you don’t have to be a master cartographer to do this. In this article, I’ll talk to you about what kind of maps there are and the different methods you can use to build your own maps. Here’s a little overview:
- Dungeon, Structure, and Battle Maps
- Villages, Towns, Cities, and Ruins
- Region and World Maps
- Online Resources and Tools
- One More Method
These maps will be the most common throughout any of your campaigns. You will spend most of your map-crafting time creating the interior of a dungeon or other structures, natural or otherwise. These include and are not limited to: basements, cellars, dungeons, prisons, ancient ruins, caves, taverns, farm houses, guild halls, throne rooms, dragon lairs, etc. Any kind of enclosure you can think of that takes up a relatively small area fits within this category. As I said, seems daunting.
A small tip I will give you before we move on to defining the other map types is this; recycle your maps.
This is a technique that could really save you a lot of time with map making. Instead of creating a whole slew of new maps for every single bar or generic location, reuse an old one. Utilizing this method will also give your created maps more than one use. That way it won’t feel like you’ve done all this work just to throw it all away and start over.
Villages, Towns, Cities, and Ruins
This is where creating maps gets a bit harder. Villages, towns, cities, and ruins are all places that take up a rather large space. They will be filled with many different structures, including houses, churches, taverns, and colleges. Basically, everything that was mentioned before will be within these maps and there will be multiples of them. These maps will take up a lot of your time and will require patience and dedication. While villages and towns don’t have to be very large and complex, cities, metropolises, and ruins are usually very large. They tend to have multiple districts, multitudes of walls, and a plethora of structures. Of all the cartography you’ll be doing, this will by far be the most involved and intricate of the processes.
Most cities and large infrastructures have many different districts.
These districts are inhabited by a particular class of folk or tend to serve a general purpose. For instance, a slum district is typically inhabited by the lower class of citizen. Beggars and urchins alike call these districts home, and their living conditions are quite poor usually. Then you have the market districts which serve as a hub for all means of commerce throughout the city. You’ll find many merchants, common folk, and wealthy individuals here looking to buy, sell, and trade goods. You can also have a graveyard district to house the cities esteemed dead. How many districts and what their purposes are, is entirely up to you.
Ruins are much like cities in general structure with many districts, walls, and buildings.
However, as you could imagine they are no longer bustling and are in a state of decay. Many buildings and structures are falling apart in disrepair. What parts of the ruins remain intact has much to do with its history. Was it befallen by a massive siege in an ancient war? Or perhaps it was abandoned and left to rot because of a curse that was bestowed upon it. As a result of its disrepair, much of the ruins may not even exist anymore and many of its secrets could be lost. Put as much thought into it as possible; map building is the physical means of making the story your campaign will follow come to life. Just don’t burn yourself out by overthinking.
Next, you have all the big stuff. Whole countries and giant landmasses. This may seem like the most intimidating part, but it doesn’t have to be. The secret to making a region map and beyond is to put in what details you find to be important. Put in some major landmarks, mountain ranges, lakes and rivers, and note the important cities and ruins across the world. You don’t need to be so detailed on the map that you include things like color, topography, and unnecessary labeling. In fact, there’s no need to go beyond creating one region if you’re doing a one-shot campaign that won’t go beyond the boundaries of that region.
Remember that the key to map-building is to keep in mind how much of the map is likely to be explored, and to waste as little energy as possible. Be efficient by drawing out and creating only the regions you’ll need to begin with. Perhaps create one or two regions entirely so that in between the next few sessions you can focus on building any other regions you plan on taking the party.
Online Resources and Tools
Here is a list of different online tools and resources that will aid in improving your map creating:
Many of these sites have pre-generated maps and an abundance of detailed tutorials to make your very own. Mind you, there are plenty more out there. I just wanted to list these few for you.
These websites are an amazing way to craft beautiful and professional looking maps for your campaign. Read through the tutorials if you’re unsure on how to get started.
One More Thing…
This is a physical method of map-drawing I have seen floating around on the web for some time now.
However, I do not know who originally came up with this idea. I can only tell you that it has worked for me and that I have found it to be quite enjoyable. I call it the Dice Method.
Then gather all of the dice that you have, or at least a fair amount (maybe anywhere from 50-120 polyhedral dice. If you don’t have this many dice just find a bunch of items similar in size to the die.) Lay out the sheet of paper or battle mat flat and pour all of your dice onto it.
Then all you have to do is make your pile of dice look somewhat like a region or continent and draw lines around the edges.
Viola! You have your basic outline for your region, continent, or even world. After that, you add in details such as mountains, rivers, lakes, cities, canyons, ruins, etc.
This is a very fun and creative method to making maps, and I will continue to use it for as long as I am Dungeon Mastering.
Check out our post for building encounters once you’ve created your maps!
Thank you all so much for reading! Hopefully this has helped you new and aspiring Dungeon Masters out there in creating your own maps. Until next time! Happy map making!
Author: Ven’Orik (Zach)
I’m just a regular nerd with a passion for storytelling and fantasy. Growing up I read books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, and this solidified my love for the genre. I first started playing D&D when I was 13 and have been pursuing it since. I’m just here to share my knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two from all of you as well!