Map a Fantasy City


An Introduction to City Map-Making

Some of my best role-playing game memories were forged in glorious city-settings, such as the City State of the Invincible Overlord and Thieves World. While dungeons are deadly traps and monsters, cities are full of very different, but just as deadly traps: political intrigue, betrayal, criminals, heists and brewing revolutions.

City adventures make fantasy worlds more PERSONAL.

And it's not just the people and places... a city itself can have personality.   In fact, it is essential that it takes on a character of its own. Each city should be as unique as the people that dwell within it.

In this Master Mapping Tutorial Series, you'll learn how to create a beautiful little city using Profantasy's Campaign Cartographer's City Designer 3+ ad-in module.  

While most of the tutorial has been created for a beginner or novice user of CC3+, there are also some more advanced skills and lessons.

The tutorial is broken into small 'bite-sized' chunks, so you can focus on mastering one specific skill or activity before moving on.   You can also skip parts of the tutorial that cover things you already know. 

So... let's get started! 


* Note: I will be expanding the video in future to delve into the entire brainstorming process. But for now... let's get into action!

Before we start this tutorial, please download  The city Builders Checklist.

This document will help you brainstorm your new city. It's not just about mapping the physical city. It's about uncovering the stories, plots, intrigues and potential plots that will take place in your city!  

The checklist will help you consider:

  • where is the city and how does location impact...
  • why the city grew up here and why it still exists,
  • what should be in the city,
  • who are the inhabitant
  • what adventures may happen within it.

So grab that document and go through the checklist.  Better still, team up with a friend and bounce 'what if' ideas off each other as you plan the city!

The next thing to do before even touching campaign cartographer is to sketch out roughly  your city .   What goes where... and based on your checklist, why!

This is really important for cities, because they're complex living, evolving environments. So having a good understanding of what is going to look like is important prior to powering up Campaign Cartographer 3+ (CD3+) and City Designer 3+ (CD3+).    Knowing roughly what you need to map out in advance will save you a bucket-load of time!

I am using a wonderful Microsoft Surface Studio computer and Photoshop for this sketching activity.  But you could use pen and paper, or a Surface Book or any other pen based computer.  Just as long as you sketch out a rough plan - and I do mean rough - before starting with CD3+.

And it doesn't have to be a high resolution image!  In this video, I only use 800 x 600 pixels.

For  this tutorial, I've decided to create a fishing village that grew into a city.  The reason for it's growth is that it started off as a wealthy town due to the abundance seafood in the area. But that enough would not be enough to have it grow into a city...

So in this case, the town grew into a city due to gold-panning in the river upstream.  The gold traders came downstream with their treasure and the town became a trading port for gold.

Start you sketch by drawing the coastline.  In this case, I'm adding a river right through the middle of the city.

Next draw the main roads - and map out the main points of interest. In this city, the original fishing co-op has now become a small castle, and the new docks expanded to handle both fishing boats and traders.

Also, the city expanded over to the other side of the river.  A bazaar is positioned near the main gates and a religious district (on the opposite side of the river) expanded into an upper-class area.  The city also retained a central park area, again with wealthier houses and traders surrounding this choice bit of land. 

Ok. Sure. My sketch looks terrible.  And that's ok. You  are NOT drawing your city.  Do not approach this activity as a final destination.  Your sketch map can, and will, change even as you map it out in CD3+.  

The sketch is NOT about accuracy or beauty. It's about planning ahead just enough to make your mapping process intentional.

Preplanning will help a great deal in getting things done fast in CD3+.

  • Homework
  • Tips

Brainstorm your city

  • Download the City Builder's Checklist
  • Get together with a friend and jointly fill out the City Builder's Checklist.  As you do so, continually ask each other questions such as: What if?  What happened then?  Who was involved,  Why.
  • As you work through the Checklist, note down any ideas for adventures, plots or interesting characters you generate .

Sketch your city

  • Based on your brainstorming, sketch out your city.  Use an erasable or digital medium if possible, as you may wish to make changes as you map.  
  • As you sketch, be sure you include all the ideas for areas you developed while brainstorming.


Geography determines a great deal about your city.  We all know that to grow a city needs fresh running drinking water, outflow for wastes, farmlands and grazing fields.   In addition, natural minerals in the area shape trade of centuries, climate impacts the city's architecture and, importantly,  the natural geography can provide protection from invaders... or obvious lines of attack!

Starting Your New City Map

  • You will need to have CC3+ installed, along with City Designer 3+  (CD3+).  
  • Start CC3+ and then click on New Map
  • Select From Template and select Cities