View Full Version : The Free City

04-13-2014, 11:57 AM
I am getting to the geography section in my campaign setting and its time to address the major cities on the map. This is my first attempt for one of the largest cities on the continent. This is a snippet of the general description:

The Free City is the oldest of human cities. Founded by rarely remembered overlords, the Free City and the territories it claims, run as an absolute state. A council of ruling wizards control the Free Realm as if pretending their free citizens were just that. The charade is carefully calculated and tactically managed to keep the state running smoothly. With the guiding hands of an underground guild of thieves (that are more than they appear), the Free City maintains status quo.... The aristocrats of the Free City are extremely xenophobic and isolationist. They distrust the natural world almost as much as they distrust foreigners, but recognize the need for healthy trade. As such, the Free City is a center for commerce and news in the north.

So the city is fairly large, I was thinking Paris in the middle ages, before the Bubonic Plague. The southern section of the city is dense and poor, the west is bordered by the King's River, the east is for guild members, merchants, and the well to do, and the north is a long sectioned off part of the city that is forbidden to enter. It's a giant section of the city that seems to have fallen into a sink hole. The center of the city is where the imposing Free City Library is the center of politics and learning.

So, any thoughts, general impressions? I think one of the fortifications on the wall shouldn't be there, and the wall along the river is at least two lengths long. But otherwise, my thoughts on changes are more in redrawing it with grid paper to make the lines look nice and straight. The section on the bottom was me trying my hand at a ground perspective, but I'm not happy with it, so I didn't ink over it. Anyway, I'm chatting to much, here it is:


05-02-2014, 03:41 PM
...So, any thoughts, general impressions? I think one of the fortifications on the wall shouldn't be there, and the wall along the river is at least two lengths long. But otherwise, my thoughts on changes are more in redrawing it with grid paper to make the lines look nice and straight. The section on the bottom was me trying my hand at a ground perspective, but I'm not happy with it, so I didn't ink over it...

In terms of urban layout I think this map has some potential! One thing that catches my eye is the shapes of the buildings. The shapes almost feel too clean, and for some reason I find myself craving a little more geometric chaos. I would also like to see the direct road from the East gate to the Library/Docks stay a little wider, but maybe that tension is OK.

It is a little tough for me to make out what is going on in your perspective drawing, but I am interested in seeing what you decide to ink!

Good luck!

05-02-2014, 05:24 PM
RedKettle is right, but there are other issues with this map. It's late here, so I'm going to keep this brief (and apologies if I seem brusque or harsh).

First, your streets are too straight. Look at some maps of old towns (Siena, Italy, is top of the list). They have angles, courtyards/piazzas, and curve-like streets. Bascally, they are a mess (there is always reason behind the madness, but I won't go into that now). Your map lacks that chaos.

Second, and this is a major pet peeve of mine, and something which heaps (most?) of city mappers are guilty of: in old cities, buildings DID NOT SIT APART FROM EACH OTHER! They would always share at least one wall, and probably 3 (or 6 or 7 if they weren't rectilinear, which was usually the case). Once again, there is a pattern behind it, but the gist is, streets are the bits between the buildings and not the other way around. If nothing else, streets should represent only a tiny fraction of the urban space (gardens and buildings occupying the majority; yes, gardens were common in old towns, although their purpose was linked more to food production). As I said before, you should take a look at the likes of Siena, Rome, or Venice (those being excellent examples of large cities relatively unchanged in their central districts).

Oh, and one final thing: it was unusual for a medieval or pre-medieval town to have walls within walls. More often, a single wall around the edge of the settlement, often with suburbs appearing beyond it. Fortified walls are expensive to build, and occupy valuable urban space. In most cases, they would only be built if there was a genuine need for them (usually defensive, but equally about collecting taxes/tolls). Just something to consider regarding the wall around your town's inner sanctum.

Good luck. Don't be discouraged.


05-02-2014, 09:09 PM
Thanks for the feedback. No need to pad my feelings, harsh and clear is good. When I looked through old city maps I did notice that about the buildings needing to be clumped together, so I will have that heavily on my mind on the re-draw. Also, I think I have a tendency to try to keep things organized, so I am going to have to make a better effort with the layout and roads. As for the walls at the center, I think getting rid of them would help with putting the city together more cohesively, but I would like there to be some sort of change from the outer city and inner city. I'll look through some old maps for ideas, but I would welcome some suggestions.

05-03-2014, 12:24 AM
It's possible to have a well organized city even at that time especially in a fantasy setting. But for large cities, organization have it's limit too.

Cities tend to be build in an organic fashion. The best word to describe this is not chaos because there is generally a pattern and there a reason why cities are made that way. It's simply a lack of urban planning in most cases. It is not chaos because there are some simple laws. People simply build where the space is available. The houses are close together and tend to follow the landscape like Siena as mentioned by THW. That is why they end up with streets that seems to sprawl in every direction with no symmetry. There is also another factor to take in consideration as to where building are placed.

Wealth. A poor city with with less revenues and possibly less law enforcement might let people build houses blocking alleys, on a river banks or at the base of the walls (inside and outside). It's like if you where late at work and ready to park your car anywhere and be done with it. That can also be a sign of decay (take the french walled city of Carcasonne after the conquest of Roussilon as an example).

However, since your city is much bigger, I guess it would also need large roads to ''irrigate the traffic''. But I don't know much about that.

05-29-2014, 01:54 AM
I have created two large cities for my homebrew campaign setting and I can tell you your off on a wonderful, frustrating, enlightening and often stressful journey. I can say that your first draft is promising and I wouldn't give up on it. Ask yourself some questions about your city's inhabitants and why they would build what they build and where. "Fantasy" cities can be either neat grids or tangled masses of alleys and joined rowhouses. Did the city evolve? or was it planned? I always tend to like the crowded tangled web like cities as I feel it adds a great deal to the "atmosphere" of the city but your results may differ. The best advice I can give you is to ask for feedback, apply what parts of that feedback make sense to you and remember to like what you are doing. It's YOUR city and you'll have to "live" there in the long run. If you spend a great deal of time working on it you will eventually come to call it "home" you will know exactly why that alley is split by that odd triangular shaped building and why the great house of the lord mayor is not quite square. Your streets will become living things and they will be and look as they should. I wish you good fortune. City building is one of the great joys of cartography. Also remember that we are here to help. :)