View Full Version : Multi-Level City with waterfalls...Advice?

Aval Penworth
02-02-2010, 09:36 AM
:twisted:I have a city in my campaign world which I have never satisfyingly mapped.

It is on the southern coast of a large continent. It features multiple stepped levels, canals, waterfalls and towers linked by bridges. Any ideas or example of how to depict such a place?

02-02-2010, 11:03 AM
First, welcome! Second, wow, sounds ambitious.

The biggest problem I see is in actually getting the various heights to "read" as such to the viewer. There are a couple of tricks that might work: 1) Convey distance through scaling: You might try making the buildings slightly smaller scale as you go down the levels. This might be hard because it'll be hard to tell whether the buildings are just smaller because they're not as large or if they only appear smaller because they're further away. You might need to include common elements (shingles, wells, trees, etc.) that the viewer knows are actually the same size but just appear smaller because they're on a lower level. 2) Convey distance through atmospheric perspective: Over distance, colors of objects become less saturated and wash towards the color of the intervening atmosphere. Usually this happens over a very long distance (i.e. between you and some distant mountains) but it might happen over a shorter range in a "thicker" atmosphere...such as you'd get around a bunch of waterfalls spewing water vapor into the air.

That brings up another idea. The waterfalls and bridges are your opportunities to show the relationships between the levels. A waterfall might start at the top and then fall all the way to the ground level...that gives you a chance to use some actual perspective to show distance. If I see a short waterfall and a long waterfall I can guess that the short one probably ends sooner than a long one. And, if I follow the course of the stream, through a waterfall, through a stream on another level, through another waterfall, and through a stream on a yet lower level, then my brain can establish a relationship between the three levels crossed by that stream. That make any sense? Same thing with bridges, but less so...you might have an opportunity to have a bridge cross between two areas at the same level, showing the level underneath it, establishing distance. You'll want some scaling and atmospherics in there so that it doesn't blend with what's underneath, though.

There's another guy on here with a map that has similar issues. He used fading line-weight to indicate atmospheric perspective. Combined with coloring that might be pretty effective. [edit: here's the link (http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?8955-Cen-Heddan)]

Hope any of this helps...and I'm sure some of the others will have some ideas for you. Good luck with it. A city map's ambitious enough without all of these complications! :)

Aval Penworth
02-03-2010, 06:26 PM
Thanks Mearrin,

Good ideas.

Anyone else want to pitch in?

02-03-2010, 06:29 PM
I'd say double perspective. Top-down (or nearly top down) and Side-on. Put them both on the same map and on the "side on" map include the major landmarks in each section... for example "Lord's Mansion" in top section, "Public Square/Market" in #2, etc, etc, etc.

Easier to draw in once sense, very "technical drawing"...

02-03-2010, 06:54 PM
I have to say that this screams out to be done as an isometric or perspective view (isometric will be clearer).

If you want to do top down you can make the regions clearly different in colour or style - after all the different vertical plateaus are likely to have different styles of houses on them - so the cliffs should clearly divide very different areas of the city. You can make the cliffs quite wide too so they clearly delineate the break between regions. Cliffs are very rarely perfectly vertical anyway. Then indicate the height change with text - +20' for example.

Aval Penworth
02-03-2010, 09:25 PM
I have started by mapping the the stepped landscape and water. Each step and level of water is a different layer in PS.

I think I like the idea of a different colour palette to indicate each level. I could also reduce contrast slightly for lower levels too.

Now to look for cliffs and waterfalls...

Thanks everyone.

02-03-2010, 09:43 PM

Those two maps immediately came to mind as examples of what you're dealing with - top down views with elevation changes (there's a lot of good dungeon examples, but these ones treat outside areas)

Might not help the waterfall issue as much, but it might give you some inspiration for the cliffsides.

02-04-2010, 12:42 AM
Also might want to check out the maps for Monte Cook's Ptolus. That city doesn't have waterfalls (IIRC) but does have several levels. Not sure if they're available online anywhere but I bet there's at least a zoomed out view somewhere.

02-04-2010, 12:10 PM
Ouch! I think making that map will not be easy.

Aval Penworth
02-06-2010, 05:13 AM
I now realise, that to do this properly will take a couple of months, so I decided to do a small section to trial a few techniques.

I tried to use contrast to give a sense of depth. Still have no idea how I'm going to do the cliff faces. And I might have been a little heavy handed with the mist.

02-06-2010, 05:46 AM
I don't think the mist is overdone at all, it looks great to me. i love the water effect as a whole too, very nice. So far, without other effects in to *really* make elevations stand out, I'm definitely getting a sense of elevation change from the waterfalls alone.

Definitely on to something here!

02-16-2010, 08:55 PM
Nice work. I agree with coyotemax the water effects are great.

I am only new to CG so dont take my opinion too seriously but I am having a bit of trouble discerning the elevation of the top (Green) level. Depending on where I look it sometimes seems that it is lower than the mid section. Possibly due to the similarity in colour of the top and bottom level.

I also like the detail on your buildings. Keep it up!

Aval Penworth
02-17-2010, 07:10 AM
Yeah, after I did it I thought that I should probably put warm colours at the top and cooler colours at the bottom to help create the illusion. Thanks for the feedback.

02-17-2010, 08:48 AM
Good start. The biggest thing here will be the shadows and your attention to detail around them. Shadows on one side of a line typically mean the shadowed side is lower to most peoples eyes. But your top two builtings have a deep shadow in the northwest, while the house to the left of the water on the center section has it's deepest shadows due north. This lighting direction would mean that the cliff face would have very little shadow to it which will make the illusion much harder to portray. If possible, rotate your buildings or redo the shadows so that the light comes from either due north or NW and the shadows are on the opposite side. Then add shadows based on the relative height of the cliff face. In this case, some of the houses may not cast any shadows at all depending on their location relative to the cliff.

Aval Penworth
02-18-2010, 11:44 PM
Okay I will keep that in mind for my next effort. Does it matter that the city is situated on the southern coast of a continent in the northern hemisphere of my game world?

02-19-2010, 08:18 AM
Okay I will keep that in mind for my next effort. Does it matter that the city is situated on the southern coast of a continent in the northern hemisphere of my game world?

In theory, it could... depending on time of year (winter/summer), planetary tilt, etc. But quite frankly, I tend to always put map aesthetics and functional information conveyance above real life physics(when I know then.. which is rarely..lol)

Aval Penworth
02-19-2010, 08:22 AM
I agree, poetic license should prevail in this situation.

Aval Penworth
02-23-2010, 10:36 PM
Latest update on my overly ambitious city project (me and my big mouth).

I started to add buildings in different styles to see what grabbed me, so far I’m not sure. I can’t decide how to lay out the city yet. Are ordered streets or rambling alleyways going to work better? Maybe some feedback from the community would give me the inspiration I need to move on with it.

To give you some idea of the background of the city here are some dot points.

•The city is very wealthy. It is the centre of magic in my world setting.
Alchemist, sorcerers, wizards, seers, sages, astrologers, great-merchants, artists, luminaries, and adventures are found here in greater concentration than anywhere else in the world.
•Almost all of the basic goods are imported from other parts of the country.
•Exports include enchanted items, clock-work items, fine clothes, perfumes, artworks and scupltures, herbal and magical medicines, furniture, glassware, fine metalwork, books.
•People visit from near and far for the unique services available here.
•The high-end red light district and its magically enhanced "service providers" is world famous.
•Many parts of the city are magically protected from scrying and detection spells, which attracts a seedy under current of powerful outlaws and criminals. There is an area of town known as “the warren” where these unsavoury types hang out. I thought maybe this might be obscured on the main map.
•Most of the regular city-dwellers live in 3-5 story apartment blocks.
•Wizards, merchants and the like dwell in huge, ostentatious mansions with gaudy facades and lofty minarets.
•Steam technology exists in this city and this powers great elevators which can be found throughout. You enter tunnels in the side of the cliffs and these lead to elevator shafts which emerge in domed plazas on the next level.
•There are no walls about the city but gryphon riding guards keep a lookout for trouble from 200’ watch towers.
•Art and entertainment is high on the agenda for citizens and visitors alike.
•The wharf area is separated from the rest of the city to keep out the riff-raff and is filled with shady bars and hostels.

02-25-2010, 01:59 AM
Well, a high-magic city might have streets laid out so that the streets make occult symbols in various places. This could even be a vital element of city defenses.

02-25-2010, 03:18 AM
That would be a great way of doing it! The very shape of the roads and buildings are what creates the protective wards etc :)


Aval Penworth
02-25-2010, 07:08 AM
Well, a high-magic city might have streets laid out so that the streets make occult symbols in various places. This could even be a vital element of city defenses.

Genius!!! Have some rep!

02-25-2010, 07:42 AM
Just look at Washington DC, all sorts of masonic symbols in the street layout.

02-26-2010, 07:59 AM
Well, a high-magic city might have streets laid out so that the streets make occult symbols in various places. This could even be a vital element of city defenses.

Hm, reminds me of the Poeple's Palace in D'Hara in the Sword of Truth series. Sounds like a brilliant idea.

Aval Penworth
03-01-2010, 05:17 AM
Had a go at one of the levels. Not that clear in the jpeg, but still kinda cool-looking. It looked better in my CC3 window.

This level is obviously still far from finished, but you can get an idea of how it is going to look. I had originally planned to do lots of rows a attached appartment buildings but they started looking too uniform. So I ended up placing each building individually (so much for my policy of quick and efficient map making). I also put in some odd shaped buildings to show that there is some unusual architecture and also to fit into the sharp angles of rune inspired streets.

Also tried to take on board the comments regarding the cliff shadows.

I think I will have to do something about the roads though. They don't really stand out. They are meant to be cramped and narrow, but they get a bit lost at this zoom level. Maybe I will pave the symbol areas in red.

Anyway this is what I have done lately.


03-01-2010, 06:53 AM
Whoa, i stop watching this map for a few days and it becomes this. Great job, repped.


03-01-2010, 07:36 AM

It's all i can say

03-02-2010, 01:02 PM
Looking good!

Greason Wolfe
03-02-2010, 01:11 PM
Yes indeed, that's looking rather nice so far. Really can't find anything to nit-pic about at this point and am looking forward to seeing the finished product as a whole.


Aval Penworth
03-03-2010, 07:16 AM
Thank's for the positive feedback. I'll be working on the lower two levels this week.

Aval Penworth
03-06-2010, 08:18 AM
Slow going. I keep crashing my computer.

I have done some work on the first level of the town. This includes the original settlement and keep. This is the more mundane area of the city, all the early buildings were built without the aid of magic so they are smaller and more conventionally shaped, than the higher levels.

The city area will probably be 20-25 sq km based on the scale of my map. Most of the people live in apartments, so it looks like the population might run to 80-120,000. Considering the city imports so much of its food and other staples, the docks will probably need to be fairly extensive. I'm not sure how much shoreline to devote to the docks.

I imagine that the super wealthy are going to have estates on the top level of the city. There are going to be some whopping mansions on the highest plateau. Considering this does anyone think (from an aesthetic p.o.v.) that I have made the dwellings too small compared to lvl 3?

Anyway, I just thought I'd share the latest fruits of my labours.


03-06-2010, 12:11 PM
Jesus Christ that's awesome! I especially like the lowest level

03-06-2010, 06:26 PM
This is starting to look really nice. I was sure at first (because of all the cliffs), but now it's really taking shape. The only main suggestion I can offer is perhaps hand drawing and colouring the actual cliff faces? More like in the Cen Hedden(sp) style lower down in this forum rather than an emboss type effect. Apart from that, can't wait to see it finished.

Aval Penworth
03-06-2010, 06:49 PM
Thanks, I still haven't worked out how I'm going to finish the cliffs. They are still in the place holder stage.

After I add ground texture/ colours, add the building layer effects and vari-colour the upper buildings I'll have a better idea of what will work.

Aval Penworth
03-09-2010, 09:12 AM
Managed to do a little more, so I thought I'd post an update of level 1. I was thinking of going back creating a few more open squares and plazas on level 3, now that I have some on the lower level. Waddaya reckon?

Also, does anyone know how to 1.) make circular roads in CC3 2.) change the colour of a selected group of buildings in CC3 3.) copy an editable layer from one CC3 file to another?

Aval Penworth
03-17-2010, 02:58 AM
Here is what I have done lately. I thought I'd get some feedback before continuing.

03-17-2010, 04:35 AM
looks really good - have you blurred the building a little, didn't look as crisp as I remember (which is good). Fantastic city - what I think is missing is working on the level differences, each level look mostly like an overhang, so cliffsides would be a nice addition :)

Aval Penworth
03-21-2010, 08:15 AM
Thank's for the help. I'm going to give this project a rest for a while. It is taking up too much time and I have a few more cities and regions that I want to get on paper for my progressing RPG campaign. I think I'll come back to it in a few week.