Map Critique #1 - The City of Liberty
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Post Posted: Wed Mar 14, 2007 10:32 am 
 

Whilst buying a few PDFs on RPGNow, I stumbled across the City of Liberty, originally intended to be published in many parts, but sadly now an abandoned project. It does have one redeeming feature, however. The city map earned it's artist, Christopher West, the 2004 Gold ENnie Award for Best Cartography, and is probably the best example of a near perfect fantasy city map since Judges Guild published City State of the Invincible Overlord in 1976.

I thought I should highlight the map (which is available separately) as a future collectable. Cafepress print on demand, but they drop items that don't sell, and seing as the project has run on bad times, it may never be completed. Whatever you think of d20 and modern products, that does not have any bearing on what is and is not a good map. This one is brilliant.

Image

So, why is this map so good? What sets it apart from masses?

To answer these questions we need to go back to the very basics of good map design. Whether it be good dungeon map design, good wilderness design or as in this case city design, there are four basic design tenets.

1. Terrain - The physical aspect of the space in which the character stands.

Good maps encompass more than a single type of terrain. This one contains a finely balanced selection of water and land, and within that there are rivers, waterfalls, ports and pools of varying sizes, and both rugged and calm costal waters. The land is divided between urban, rural and wilderness uses. We see fields, forestry, grassland and copse; out of town attractions, squalid and splendid construction, new and derelict construction, fortification, private gardens, a palace, a lighthouse and a stone circle.

2. Environment - The nature and use of the space in which the character stands.

Looking a little deeper into how these terrains have been placed, we see logic and functionality in the construction and layout of the city. It has credibility to it in the same way that believable history and motive creates a credible NPC. We see a palace built upon a natural bridge, an easily defensible position given the proximity of the barracks and military contingent in a city this size, but not the sort of place you could build a fortification before the city had been developed. So it was not always this way and just to the north are the remains of the old castle, a more traditionally placed and shaped fortification from a time when the city was not there. Maybe there was just a fishing village below. Of course the stone has all been removed to build the current city walls, and it looks like a large amount was quarried locally.

As the city has grown on the back of quarrying and seafaring, those who have grown wealthy on the back of the increase in trade live in the higher, more desirable locations, and have more spacious and less cramped dwelling. As the quarrying has almost reached sea level, the old quarry is given over to slum dwellings, a place that could be susceptible to falling rocks or the whims of tidal waters.

You only need to look carefully at a city map, and ask yourself 'Why?', and you will see how the place may have developed over time. The city maps that do not ring true, the ones that are poor to play, and hard to DM, are the ones that have no built in developed character. They look like they have just been dropped there, for no apparent reason, just appeared over night.

This map has grown in the place it is drawn. You could be looking at a snapshot of a campaign that has been running in this location for many decades. It has that feel.

3. Dimension - The shape and scale of the space in which the character stands.

We live in a three dimensional world. If you bear this in mind when you design a setting for a campaign, or a dungeon, you are far more likely to engage your players.

With this particular map, the vertical aspect of the terrain has been used to great effect. We have a sunken port overlooked by both a grand palace and the ruins of the old castle fort. We have an elevated aqueduct that becomes the main technological feature when viewed from the squalid end or town. The rest of the enclosed city comprises tiered gardens and waterways, with temples and towers positioned on significant promontories and an arena and training fields placed in the centre of the flat lands; all designed to emphasise the three dimensional nature of the space.

4. Navigation - The method in which a character moves from one space to another.

One of the most critical considerations that a prospective dungeon, wilderness or city map designer must take on board is the means by which characters may move about a map. Too many maps can be navigated solely by walking around, and this is great if you want that old school scrapbook dungeon feel to your campaign.

Different terrains and environments tend to force you to vary the methods by which PCs navigate your map, as does using the third dimension. In this instance there is the option to walk or run the streets, swim or sail the channels, climb and scale the battlements, or venture into the warren of sewers and tunnels beneath the streets.

The use of tiers and waterways offer many more options of moving between say the squalid part and fortified merchant sector above. You can walk up and present yourself at the gatehouse, scale the cliff and battlements, jump in the river and try to negotiate the waterfall at night, or leave and present yourself at another gate. The same goes for approaching the palace. Do you present yourself at the gatehouse? Arrive by boat and scale the cliffs? Work your way along the aqueduct and into what must be a cellar system and cistern? And we've only looked at non-magical means of movement.

Varying the rate at which characters can move also adds to the interest of a map. This is most critical in the design of dungeon maps. Characters generally know that they can wander around wherever they like, and run away when necessary. By PCs can also crawl, climb, duck, jump, leap, swim, sink, swing, fall and fly. Forcing characters to consider and use unconventional means of movement can be some of the most rewarding experienced to DM. Being aware of these possibilities and offering a wide variety of choices during the design or your dungeon map (or city map) will only enhance your dungeon and make you a better DM.


Publisher - The Game Mechanics........Cartographer - Christopher West........Buy This Map -  Cafepress


This week I've been mostly eating . . . chicken and wild rice soup.


Last edited by mbassoc2003 on Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:27 pm, edited 8 times in total.
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Post Posted: Wed Mar 14, 2007 3:51 pm 
 

Brilliant map, the two books that were put out are great, but it sucks that this whole thing has died out. The books remind me of the Flying Buffalo city books in there presentation.

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Post Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 11:34 am 
 

Plaag wrote:Brilliant map, the two books that were put out are great, but it sucks that this whole thing has died out. The books remind me of the Flying Buffalo city books in there presentation.

I just discovered that Arcane Quarter is also available, but only as a PDF. And Cafe Press till publish the maps, but the anotated Giant Poster Map is gone.


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Last edited by mbassoc2003 on Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:36 pm 
 

I must admit that it is a fine looking fantasy map.


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Post Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:48 pm 
 

I dunno. It looks awfully small. A few buildings here, some more over there. It might make a great little city, but if I wanted a capitol or something, I would likely not use this.


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Post Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 1:05 pm 
 

serleran wrote:I dunno. It looks awfully small. A few buildings here, some more over there. It might make a great little city, but if I wanted a capitol or something, I would likely not use this.

If I wanted a capital city, I'd go for Necromancer's version of CSIO.


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Post Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 1:57 pm 
 

Sometimes I truly wonder where folks get the idea that Ancient Realms (real or imagined) would even have very many HUGE cites.

The city shown in the first post above, would (I think) represent a medium sized city/port in many settings.
Not a Capital sized city certainly, but definately large enough to have all the adventuring needs to satisfy all but the most jaded of adventuring souls.

As stated above; if you want a HUGE metropois with millions of inhabitants to choose from for your adventuring pleasure, then there are PLENTY of them already produced.

CSIO for one.


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Post Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 2:50 pm 
 

I don't care about the realism of a big city (besides, my games aren't based on Ancient cultures, anyway), but I like a city to seem like a city. Not, oh look, there are 12 buildings here. That may have been a city in the 800s, but it is not what I want, nor what my players would expect.

And, I did not say I did not like this one... just that it looks a little small. It would be perfect for n outlying settlement, perhaps one under siege (ironic considering its name.)


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Post Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 3:09 pm 
 

That's fair enough. I suppose when you're playing modern games you need to keep up with the times, and players nowadays need to be able to relate what they are playing to the world around them. If it doesn't feel like a city to your players then you can't very well ask them to imagine can you? AEG's Worlds Largest City is the best option there, on account of JG's CSIO being a lot more abreviated and far more rustic oldie worldie.

But then the little township of Yggsburgh, formerly Geyhawk City/vilage isn't all that big either. About the same size? It is a fantasy game, and if the DM's fantasy campaign requires a vast metropolis then so be it. There are companies out there who will oblige (AEG). I remember a DM that had gunpowder and pistols in  his campaign.

I think the writers were trying to capture what is fashionably called an old school feel to the campaign setting. Not go down the route of pandering to the 'we've got to have the biggest regardless of quality' brigade. At the time this was published AEG had just published World's Worst Dungeon and were developing it into a city.


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Post Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 3:21 pm 
 

Actually, I'll need to compare this to Middenheim. I think they're about the same size. Hmm.


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Post Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 3:23 pm 
 

mbassoc2003 wrote:.... AEG had just published World's Worst Dungeon and were developing it into a city....


I had to laugh.....   :lol:  8)


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Post Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 4:00 pm 
 

Well, it's the same damn product with a different map!


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Post Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 8:05 pm 
 

Talk about a bump to an old thread :)
Looking back, don't think I have the Arcane Quarter PDF, but not really looking for it.  As for a city map, Paizo does quite well: http://www.aidedd.org/images/cartes/gol_korvosa.jpg

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Post Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 5:53 am 
 

For the sake of completeness, Arcane Quarter is worth having, and it's a little more fun than Temple Quarter. PDF only though.

Paizo's Korvosos is the city I'm looking into at the moment, but I don't want to buy the whole damn Pathfinder series to find out about it. Can anyone identify which books detail the Korvoda City city, and whether they have fore detailed maps than the global overview linked above?


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Post Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 9:27 am 
 

mbassoc2003 wrote:Can anyone identify which books detail the Korvoda City city, and whether they have fore detailed maps than the global overview linked above?


Pathfinder Chronicles:  Guide to Korvosa
Pathfinder Adventure Paths:  Curse of the Crimson Throne
  Player's Guide - I think this is a free downloadable PDF with good info including the Map.
  Chapter 1 - Edge of Anarchy
  Chapter 2 - Seven Days to the Grave
  Chapter 3 - Escape from Old Korvosa
  Chapter 6 - Crown of Fangs

Chs 1-3 and 6 all are adventures that take place in Korvosa.  The Chronicles Guide and Player's Guide to the adventure path have the most detailed info.

In my opinion, the maps for Pathfinder are on par with what is posted above.

  

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Post Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 11:26 am 
 

Looks like I'll make a start with the Pathfinder Chronicles: Guide to Korvosa and take it from there. The danger being I then end up buying the lot which I really don't have the money for. Thanks for the info.


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Post Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 11:55 am 
 

Grug Greyskin wrote:
Pathfinder Chronicles:  Guide to Korvosa
Pathfinder Adventure Paths:  Curse of the Crimson Throne
  Player's Guide - I think this is a free downloadable PDF with good info including the Map.
  Chapter 1 - Edge of Anarchy
  Chapter 2 - Seven Days to the Grave
  Chapter 3 - Escape from Old Korvosa
  Chapter 6 - Crown of Fangs

Chs 1-3 and 6 all are adventures that take place in Korvosa.  The Chronicles Guide and Player's Guide to the adventure path have the most detailed info.

In my opinion, the maps for Pathfinder are on par with what is posted above.


I dont have the Guide to Korvosa but I do have Guide to Darkmoon Vale and the Pathfinder Chronicles Gazetteer.  While I think the maps are fantastic I was disappointed with the detail.  Not nearly enough in my opinion.

Does anyone know if Paizo has any future plans to combine their adventure paths into single hardbacks similar to Shackled City?  I would search the Paizo forums for answers but their site is as slow as rpg.net.


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Post Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 12:24 pm 
 

What's Shackled City Like?
Anyone have a link to the maps?


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Post Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 12:26 pm 
 

OK, after having looked into this closer, I like the city. It is pretty slick and would fit well within my campaign world. It will be the center of a bustling trade in a smaller kingdom, and be the largest city on that continent. Thanks for pointing this out, as I had not heard of it before.


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Post Posted: Fri May 01, 2009 12:53 pm 
 

mbassoc2003 wrote:What's Shackled City Like?
Anyone have a link to the maps?


http://www.ajs.com/ajswiki/Maps_and_han ... ty_players

You probably wont want to use the city of Cauldron as a typical city.  :lol:


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