View Full Version : Tips of Dwarven Cartographical Styles

08-21-2010, 03:06 PM
I'm new to this forum and had trouble efficiently searching for what I needed.

As part of my d&d campaign, my players will be visiting a dwarven city under a mountain. The defining feature of this city is that it's located up the walls of a valley like structure under the mountain.

I was hoping somebody could provide me with tips and pointers for dwarven styles of map drawing. Certain things are obvious, such as runic style fonts. But I was wondering about other things, such as should the map be more angular, to represent a chisled map? Should it be an accurate representation, or should it be more abstract (think how seating plans are drawn for theatres)

Any help will be greatfully receieved

08-21-2010, 03:58 PM
Well you have picked a very tough idea to map. The nature of stacked buildings on top of each other will be very tricky to do from the top. I have been making a few dwarven maps for my own campaign, and I decided that there would be virtually no rounded shapes, everything being square or octagonal. So I think your thinking is about right. You can also keep the color choices to just greys and browns, maybe some dark greens for water. Good luck with your map.

08-21-2010, 04:03 PM
Thanks very much for the feed back. I was thinking of doing the map in levels, with icons indicating stairwells and ramps between tiers. I was thinking in terms of style, would a dwarven map be more iconic, or would it be more artistically literal?

08-21-2010, 04:19 PM
Nice idea for a map. We were discussing doing a dwarven cave system as a challenge once. I cant remember if we ever done it or not. Anyway I just piped up to say there is a keyword index in my sig and is also on the forum quick links on the menus at the top so maybe you can check out cave and see what turns up there. In a lack of foresight, we didnt tag all of the finished map images with their content so you have to page through all the thumbnails and see what might be a dwarven cave system. If you like I can make a special run on it to see if it will pull up dwarven stuff but you can use the advanced search to do much the same thing so if that drew a blank then its not likely the keyword search scraper will either.

08-21-2010, 05:17 PM
I've always imagined dwarves as being very precise and specific in their drafting. If I made a map that was intended to have been dwarf-drawn, the lines would be bold, clean and geometric.

On the other end of the spectrum is the dwarf as pragmatist. Maps might be rough and unrefined—just enough to make communication and no more (much like Thror's map from The Hobbit).

08-21-2010, 05:28 PM
Hmmm, two very good points to think about. I think as this a city map, drawn up my learned dwarves (the city is home to the biggest dwarven library in the region) it would be leaning towards clean and specific.

08-21-2010, 05:29 PM
I'm with Midgard (as I usually am) so what I would do is do the important stuff with bold clean lines and the not-so-important stuff as rough-hewn caves. That way you can say that the rough part is where they stopped working because when a new clan comes to power they stop working on other people's stuff.

08-21-2010, 05:43 PM
Yep, you gotta think like a Dorf. Stout is best. Precision is an indication of pride of workmanship. At least that's how I envision them. That's not to say they don't create some gorgeous items of craftsmanship but if it's defective or weak it's scrap, no arguments. Only the best leaves the doors of the workshop and no Dwarf would ever want to gaze upon a crummy design. It's an assault to the senses.

I don't see a lot of circles except where necessary. Squares etc as mentioned already. If a tunnel is worth digging and is going to be permanent then it's worth doing it right. Your name is attached to everything you build so unless you want to look like a putz to the entire clan or nation you better do it right. Short, squat and sturdy is a beautiful thing to their eye.

Just my .02 cents on how they see their world.

08-21-2010, 05:51 PM
Lots of awesome feedback. Going to make everything very angular and bold. Lots of dark ink on parchment at right angles and 45 degress. Crisp would be an ideal word

08-21-2010, 06:12 PM
Jax is a half-dwarf, by the way, so he knows what he's talking about. :)

08-21-2010, 06:30 PM
Uh...well, ROFL. I'm wracking my brain to figure out which part of me is Dwarfish. I even asked my wife and she just laughed and said if anything I lean toward the Elfish side. I'm 6' 3" tall for starters and about 185 pounds so not a lot of Dwarf there. Still, I do love the little people :)

08-21-2010, 09:18 PM
I'm hoping this is a valid question for this forum, but would dwarves favour ramps or stairs? I'm looking at my current map and the only way for the residents to move large objects between levels would be some form of lift. But this doesn't fit so well with the overall aesthetic of the map. So I was thinking of changing the stairs between levels to ramps. Would this make sense for a dwarven city? Or would they favour stairs and a seperate frieght elevator?

08-22-2010, 01:34 AM
It really depends on the dwarves, the nature of the structure, and the form of available power. Maybe a mine cart arrangement that runs alongside the stairs? Carts are moved by winches powered by draft animals, or perhaps a watermill. There's no "right" answer; everybody's setting is going to be unique, and what works in my game might not in yours.

08-22-2010, 02:22 AM
Mid is right. Hmm...and yet according to my Dorf roots, hehe, I would think ramps are even preferred. Why? Well, for one they make marching an army look right snappy and downright terrifying. Imagine squads of Dwarves, rank after rank marching in stride up the ramps headed out into the world. Awesome right? Now, think about having to watch that same army awkwardly going up stairs. It's just not cool. Sure they can build smaller steps but really, it just looks better and says you don't care about space issues because you will just take what you need. :) Now, for single file or non entry ways it might be fine to use steps. I think of Dwarves as proud and they are not going to be living in a cramped areas where you have to use stairs. Unless of course, this is just a strategic outpost or something like that. If it's the grand poobah of locations however, they are going to go for as grand as they can manage. If it is stairs however, they have to be awesome.

Depending on your world you probably just need to make them an extreme of whatever their enemies are. It makes their culture stand out. If you do it right, any weapon you draw for them should be recognizable as Dwarven origin. They same way if you see Chinese letters you probably can guess it's Chinese. You probably don't know the dialect unless you actually know Chinese but you know what I mean. There should be some consistency to the architecture that just screams Dwarf. You might want to define the background history of your Dorfs and then imagine how and why they would build a certain way.

For instance, if you look in my Challenge entries under "Aquatic Fortress" those Dwarves, if they did indeed find new lands, would have a slightly different influence in their Architecture. Seeing as they were a small group of Seafarers and unique among their kind. I think AR Frost actually created some islands for them in one of his maps for his game world.

...and I have no idea why I am rambling on when I have 2 challenge entries to finish as well as lots of other things I'm working on. :)

Kharon Alpua
08-22-2010, 04:07 AM
I can't speak for your Dwarf-folk, but the Semerikan, the Dwarves of my world, at the same time highly artistic but demanding and precise. The one I know well enough to get much of their culture from gives me reminders of Japanese culture in terms of the demand for personal honor throughout life, and sadly, he was not able to uphold the rigors he chose to face, even knowing his name was on the line. His advice is that architecture be efficient above all else. Semerik architecture never moves, it never uses an awkward shape, and it never wastes a hair of space. Right angles are preferred in the vast majority of all architecture, with circles only used for stone pillars, wells, or fire pits. Secret passages are considered wasteful, and ramps are wasteful. His particular advice is that some form of winch or pulley system or lift be used to raise objects between levels, and that any house or tiered city without accommodations for such is poorly designed. Of course, ramps have their place in street designs and roadways, but do not, in his opinion, belong in a house or between tiers of a city. So, I think, innately, there's no reason to necessarily prefer ramps or stairways, as those large objects may still encounter problems along a sloped surface. I would, however, definitely prefer a mechanical solution with some form of winch, pulley, or lift (in dwarf architecture) to ramps replacing stairs just to move things between city tiers.

08-22-2010, 04:43 AM
Oh yeah, I forgot to even mention elevators and pulley systems. I think Kharon said it well.

08-22-2010, 06:38 AM
Cool, thanks everyone, I think I will use a lift system. I remembered late last night about a lift they used to have in my old university math block that was a constantly moving series of platforms that basically when 'over the top' when they reached the top. Think a ferris wheel, but instead of a wheel shape, it was an elipse. This would work great as a suitable dwarven water powered lift system and it encouraged me to think about water supply, so I've made it so they've cut an aquaduct in by tapping in under a lake near the summit of the mountain. Very dwarven way of doing things. Need water? Divert a river from around the mountain to through it. Haha

Steel General
08-22-2010, 09:52 AM
You might get some inspiration from the book "Dwarves", by Markus Heitz - it's not a bad read either :)

Kharon Alpua
08-23-2010, 02:57 PM
Well, always glad to share advice, Dave, hope this all works out for you.

08-23-2010, 06:43 PM
As an illustrator, I'd suggest when using color for a dwarven map, that straight gray is not a good tone to use with other colors. It's a complimentary color but doesn't hold it's own as a primary tone. Anything in real life that is supposed to be 'gray' is usually in one of two camps when painting something- it's a warm gray or a cool gray. Meaning that there is either a tinge of red or blue/violet mixed in. usually about 15-20% of color. This will give the perception of something that looks gray but really isn't completely flat. It will make your palette look more pleasing to look at. :)

08-27-2010, 08:55 PM
I'd expect such a map to maybe look more like a flowchart than a "x-ray bird's eye" picture of the city. The important thing is how everything connects together. The Dwarves probably don't care about the specific shape.

08-28-2010, 12:26 AM
As an illustrator, I'd suggest when using color for a dwarven map, that straight gray is not a good tone to use with other colors. It's a complimentary color but doesn't hold it's own as a primary tone. Anything in real life that is supposed to be 'gray' is usually in one of two camps when painting something- it's a warm gray or a cool gray. Meaning that there is either a tinge of red or blue/violet mixed in. usually about 15-20% of color. This will give the perception of something that looks gray but really isn't completely flat. It will make your palette look more pleasing to look at. :)

That is great advice. I remember my art teachers back in the day saying it was better to mix your colors to make black than just use black. Similar reason, it has more eye-play or character. Besides, it's pretty hard to really find something that is absolutely black.

08-28-2010, 07:29 AM
yep - in the printing industry we also work with black and deep black which is more black than black *lol* ... so we use forinstance 100% black and then add up to 100% of either cyan (cold black) or magenta (warm black). Or one could mix a little, as long as the percentages doesn't go higher than what the paper can take. (and yes - that is more than 100%)

08-28-2010, 01:12 PM
More black than black, I like that. :) Blacker than black, I hit the sack.