PDA

View Full Version : How do I decide where to place roads on a world map?



kurisari
02-15-2010, 06:47 AM
Are there any good tutorials concerning how and where roads should be placed on a world map? I can understand certain aspects will enough such as discerning trade lanes and travel speeds, but I'd like it if there were something more comprehensive to tell me what to look out for in a medieval-fantasy setting...

Ascension
02-15-2010, 09:37 AM
I don't think we have any posts covering the topic but I could be wrong. Some basic common sense is pretty much the best approach. Don't run em thru mtns when you can run em thru plains; avoid monster areas; avoid swamps or deserts unless there is appropriate technology or serious need; capitols will be connected for certain; wherever roads intersect there will likely be a lil town grow up around that; roads are mostly meant for merchants and armies so the road that is the fastest is not always the shortest; and never make straight lines :)

kurisari
02-15-2010, 09:49 AM
Haha, thanks! I did know most of those points, but it was a good refresher and you pointed out a couple things I didn't think of too. :) I just hope I don't break my file. It's already 3 MB. Adding a whole layer for roads... Haha, I'm lucky I have an i7. >_>

Coyotemax
02-15-2010, 09:56 AM
3mb file and you are concerned about a separate layer for roads? what software are you using? (curious, your numbers seem low from what I'm used to)

kurisari
02-15-2010, 10:08 AM
Gimp, haha... It might not be as big as I think. The only reason I'm worried is that on my old, low-end computer, I once built up a map on Gimp that was about 2.5 MB and it ended up getting corrupted. But that may've been less Gimp and more computer. THIS computer is pretty awesome, so it might not be a problem. :D

Coyotemax
02-15-2010, 10:37 AM
Yeah, I know a lot of gimp users on here, and while they sometimes complain about slowdowns when running certain scripts (like fractalizing paths when they have dozens of rivers) I don't think i've heard anyone complain about slowdowns due to filesize.

I'd say you should be pretty good to go - in fact, it might be worth it to try pushing the limits on a file just to see how far you can take it before you need to concern yourself, that way you can put less effort into worrying about files and more effort into the work itself :)

I did that not too long ago, and it's a very subtle psychological difference, but for me it was noticeable :P
(using photoshop here, but the underlying principles I'm talking about are the same for any software out there. know what happens when you get close to limits, and you tend to be more efficient and practical)

That all aside, what Ascension said about roads is pretty much all I've ever learned.

The only thing I can add is I like to think about it from a visualization perspective (will they actually look good on the map, and is it necessary information for the purposes of this map?), and keep in mind the economy of the realm they are in - can they afford roads? is it a small enough region that you want to show iffy dirt roads and such, or just stick to well maintained ones? Picture yourself as a merchant trying to use the roads, would you actually take the long way around the forest like the road does, or do you know that it's safe enough to take a shortcut? Why would people use the road if it doesn't take them somewhere worth going? all that stuff.

Karro
02-15-2010, 10:48 AM
Well, I've personally had serious slow-down issues on GIMP due to file size. It's the main reason work on my map seems semi-abandonned (it's not, but continued work on it, in the sort-term, is infeasbile when I don't have much free time in the first place and running a noise filter can take ten minutes or more on my not-fast-enough machine). When I was doing smaller-size regional maps the speed wasn't an issue, but when I started working on a full-scale world map, it just became essentially impossible.

Granted, it's not all GIMP's fault: my machine only has like 3G of RAM and a basic graphics card (maybe 128M? I'm not sure I don't have it in front of me, atm). And the file I was working on is pretty big.

kurisari
02-15-2010, 10:50 AM
Hmmm... Yeah...! All good points! I never thought about weighing between the long way and a shortcut... Thanks. :) And I'll have to see about pushing the limits of Gimp sometime, too, haha. You have a point there. It'd be nice to go all out without having to worry about file size.

Redrobes
02-15-2010, 07:04 PM
640Kb should be enough for everybody... seriously tho, 3Gb is a lot of RAM. If a bitmap is fully unpacked then its about 4 bytes per pix x width x height x layers + undo buffers. Which is a lot but even 5Kx5Kx4bytes = 100Mb so you would need 10 layers of that to get to 1Gb. Lack of RAM is the usual culprit why stuff slows down. For Gimp and most graphics apps then video card ram makes no difference at all. 3D apps, my VDale, and the odd bits of Photoshop + games make strong use of graphics card ram but its more uncommon.

When I tested image file sizes I usually get to about 12Kx12K before it starts to die in the file formats. By about 20Kx20K they mostly start crashing and some cant take more than 16K. The PS own brand format and TIFF are pretty robust at size but if your not mental like me then using something about the 4K size should be no problem for any map in Gimp with a fair amount of ram.

NeonKnight
02-15-2010, 08:12 PM
Hello, your question about Roads is a good one, and one that as 'kinda' been brought up by me before.

Humans (and dwarves, elves etc) like all animal species, will do their utmost at an instinctual/subconscious level to conserve energy when traveling. This means, they will try and take the most direct route from point A to point B, or as straight a path as possible. Things like small hills and gullies will be skirted/circumvented if the horizontal distance's energy expenditure is less than the energy expenditure of going over/down through the hill/gully.

The above is why I hate seeing city maps with individual buildings with wide yards in fantasy city maps. In days past these would have never occurred as realistically people would have built the same buildings much closer together as they would have spent less energy (at a time when nutrition was not as well as what we have today) to traverse the city. The yards would be almost non existent as people would chose to cross that open space to reduce the time/energy output to get from A to B.

So, where does that leave Roads in an Overland map? Roads will stay mainly on the plains, flat areas. If they do go into hills it will not be a straight on approach but at an angle where the rate of incline will be gentle (think of what consumes less energy, a flight of 5 steps over 4 feet or a 15 foot ramp). Roads will also follow rivers for the most part, cutting across the land only in places where a river's course will double back to itself in a short distance. This allows easy access to water for travelers and their livestock, and when it does cut across open land, it will be because either another source of potable water exists or the distance is such that the river will be reach again after a short time so less water must be carried (that energy expenditure thing again).

When a road DOES cross a mountain range this is done at a Mountain Pass:

In a range of hills or, especially, of mountains, a pass (also gap, notch, col, saddle, bwlch (Welsh), brennig or bealach (Gaelic)) is a path that allows the crossing of a mountain chain. It is usually a saddle point in between two areas of higher elevation. If following the lowest possible route through a range, a pass is locally the highest point on that route. Since many of the world's mountain ranges have always presented formidable barriers to travel, passes have been important since before recorded history, and have played a key role in trade, war and migration.

So, roads from one side of the range will often join at the point of where the pass enters/exits the mountain region, and by proximity likely the location of a fortress/town or other community of importance.

RobA
02-16-2010, 12:44 PM
To emphasize Daniel's great comments, slope (up or down) is the largest factor concerning road placements, especially if there is wheeled traffic on it (human and horse trails differ...) Early roads will fo 10x the distance to avoid going up or down steep slopes. Where there is no choice, switchbacks are typically employed.

A bunch of random and possibly incorrect thoughts:

Straight (and possibly cobbled/paved) overland roads tend to be created when there is a large empire, and are primarily created to move armies.

In a medieval/fantasy setting there should also be a large emphasis on water transport, so many roads will tend to converge on harbours, etc.

Bridges are expensive, so most river crossings should be with barges/ferries or fords and in either case will be a flat areas where the water is shallow and slower. Roads may parallel a waterway to get to such a crossing.

Trails and roads often follow rivers.

Trunk/branch roads tend not to exist, with many roads connecting point to point between destinations. For example, 4 towns forming a square will most likely have a road/trail between each town, terrain permitting, to minimize the distance to travel. (See previous comment on straight roads for when "kings highway" type roads show up).

Roads get built on trails, which are built on paths, etc, so they evolve more than are planned.

Often towns end up at crossroads, mainly to service multi-day travel. (i.e. town is there because of the road, rather than the road is there because of the town).

-Rob A>

Gandwarf
02-16-2010, 02:54 PM
Yeah, RobA makes some excellent points. Only well organised countries or empires will probably maintain a more elaborate road system.

During the time of the Roman empire there we some excellent roads in Europe for example, some of the highways made of stone. They were mainly created to allow the Roman legions to travel, but merchants could use them as well. The Romans could do this as there was a centralised government, with a large budget. Now, in the Middle Ages there were a lot of lords and kings and Europe was divided in hundreds of little states. Not many lords wanted to pay the costs of maintaining roads and certainly not all the lords in one region. The Roman road system fell into heavy disrepair and stone roads outside the cities became virtually non-existant. Travel was very slow, especially with cargo, and the roads could be unsafe as well. River travel was very important, especially for bulk cargo. But of course all the different lords and kings tended to want toll for use of the river system :)

Places where people can cross rivers are quite rare (bridges are expensive to build and maintain), so you can bet towns will spring into existance near those points.

RobA
02-16-2010, 03:46 PM
The Roman road system fell into heavy disrepair and stone roads outside the cities became virtually non-existent.

Possible towns are built with old road stones from abandoned roadways?

-Rob A>

Coyotemax
02-16-2010, 04:17 PM
I imagine stones could have been scavenged, I know that many a stone keep was used as a quarry by locals who carted things off for their own purposes.

Gandwarf
02-16-2010, 05:45 PM
A lot of the roads simply dissappeared, because the surface just vanished below the soil. The roads themselves were still used, but the pavement was mostly gone.

Greason Wolfe
02-22-2010, 08:27 AM
Everybody's offered great advice so far, and I really can't add to it other than to offer some tangent ideas.

Some of the things I consider when trying to place roads include;

- The availability of tools for creating/maintaining roads (i.e. is it all done on the backs of slaves/commoners or is there some sort of magic involved)

- The availability and importance of natural resources (why build/maintain a road into/across mountains unless there is something important there like valuable ore or a pass that will save days of travel time)

- How industrious is the society/community in question

- How heavily will the road be traveled

I try to keep these things in mind, along with pretty much everything that others have said, when deciding where roads are going to be. Of course, it's also a matter of scale, as well. A map depicting some small area, say a village or town, might include every road and even some of the local trails, while a map depicting a city might include only the more heavily traveled roads. And, of course, a map depicting something on a larger scale might only show those roads that connect major population centers.

Just my two cents worth.

GW

Meridius
02-22-2010, 03:04 PM
RobA, excellent explanation, but I guess roads in Medieval Europe are slightly more complex. For Europe (The Netherlands) at least, roads where laid down so that the minimum amount of road was required for connecting all towns. So in stead of each town in your 'square' being connected to each other, There would probably be an 'X' shaped road with a crossing in the centre, and no square around all towns, assuming all towns are equally important (=big or economically/strategically valuable).

After a while a fifth town will form around the crossing. And eventually new direct roads will be made.

Usually, an existing road will also be a starting point. Remember, clearing a road is a lot of work, only more advanced (and richer) kingdoms/counties/etc would lay a road for shortest travel-time.

If you want to lay down realistic roads, you have to think up back story. The biggest cities are probably oldest/richest, so they're directly connected. If you place a new village about 5 miles from such a road, would you lay down a new road to the cities? No, you just 'hook up' to the main road. Another settlement is created about two miles further away, yet again, you hook up to the existing roads.

A good idea is to quickly generate a little back story for each town/city you create. The largest (and probably oldest, or most economically successful) cities get road connections between them first, and those roads will probably receive 'upgrades' as the cities grow. Later, branches start to appear. Sometimes, those branches grow closer together, and eventually link up. If new successful economic centres develop, roads will tend to favour those.

River crossings appear at places one can walk to the other side, or perhaps a ferry across a lake. If a large road is crossing a river, the likelihood of a bridge (expensive and labour intensive, also needs maintenance) increases.

RobA
02-23-2010, 09:47 AM
RobA, excellent explanation, but I guess roads in Medieval Europe are slightly more complex.

I grew up in the prairies, where the most efficient road between two points is almost always a straight line ;)

-Rob A>

NeonKnight
02-23-2010, 01:22 PM
Some great points all, but another thought on roads we should understand is, a paved/cobble ROMAN road and a dirt path as wide as a single cart are both roads. While an Empire (or large Kingdom) could conceivably create and maintain a paved road, once the middle ages were in full swing and the roman road was thing of the past, dirt paths soon became a pot-holed 'beaten path' as traffic grew.

Additionally, consider the following image:

http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/4264792.jpg

This is an animal trail. If this trail was located somewhere between Town A and Town B where no current road exists, an enterprising merchant could utilize it as a means to get from town A and Town B and reduce his expenditures (both time and energy remember) to travel. As he does so, he will make the path wide and more pronounced as his wagons/animals and attendants further flatten the surrounding vegetation. Soon others who may want to take the shorted route will utilize this route to get about, and this animal path soon becomes a road (paved or not).

Karro
02-26-2010, 05:54 PM
Some great points all, but another thought on roads we should understand is, a paved/cobble ROMAN road and a dirt path as wide as a single cart are both roads. While an Empire (or large Kingdom) could conceivably create and maintain a paved road, once the middle ages were in full swing and the roman road was thing of the past, dirt paths soon became a pot-holed 'beaten path' as traffic grew.

Additionally, consider the following image:

http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/4264792.jpg

This is an animal trail. If this trail was located somewhere between Town A and Town B where no current road exists, an enterprising merchant could utilize it as a means to get from town A and Town B and reduce his expenditures (both time and energy remember) to travel. As he does so, he will make the path wide and more pronounced as his wagons/animals and attendants further flatten the surrounding vegetation. Soon others who may want to take the shorted route will utilize this route to get about, and this animal path soon becomes a road (paved or not).

I live in the American Southeast, and I swear that this is precisely how half the roads in town are laid down. There seems to be no other explanation for the meandering, curving, I'll-get-there-when-I-danged-well-please nature of the roads down here. In the Southeast, the shortest distance between two points is "why would I go the shortest distance between two points?"

kurisari
02-27-2010, 11:53 PM
Excellent points, Daniel! I think I'll rep you for that. :)

OldGuy
02-28-2010, 02:41 AM
I saw an excellent video in a western civ class years ago that discussed roman road building at length. According to the video, building (paving) the roads was a secondary concern. The primary concern was to keep a standing army from sitting. : ) It was proposed that if soldiers were given too much time of their own, the free time, and the discussions that go with it, could sow discontent and could lead to rebellion. By keeping the troops busy building roads and working at other tasks, in between campaigns, the rulers were actually maintaining their control over their soldiers.

Take that for what it's worth. But I would draw the conclusion that if building roads was primarily busy work (useful in itself but not the primary goal), perhaps there wasn't as much forethought involved in the planning of the roads. If that's true, roads could end up more haphazard than we would otherwise imagine. Following coastlines and rivers, and using the most economical route when dealing with obstacles would certainly always be true but if road-building is a less important project, they may not have assigned their best engineering minds to the project.

I'm not saying, necessarily, that is what happened in medieval Europe. Just offering a different perspective to consider when planning your roads.

Also, not all roads connect cities to cities. Walled cities require a great deal of stone. Wooden structures require lumber. Fields require irrigation systems. Many roads would have to be developed to transport materials. Obviously, most folks would want to build a walled city near a quarry given the chance. But when the prince's new bride says "honey, I'd just love to build our home 'there'", the prince will order the construction to begin regardless as to how far away the quarry may be.

Just food for thought.

savedbygrace
05-04-2010, 01:19 AM
This has certainly evolved into a very informative discussion. All of you folks have made brilliant points and opened my eyes to a better understanding of when and where to use roads. I would like to add to the discussion one factor that has not been mentioned tough.

Folks would have followed the easiest routes to landmarks visible at greater distances. They would not have had maps, trails or anything to guide them by except for the occasional glance of that landmark for which to get their bearings again. Once a path was cut, folks could easily and often find shorter or easier ways to get from point to point and over time, those trails would evolve into highways of travel. So, natural landmarks can be a great way to make sense of roadways through rough terrain when towns are no where in the area.

Another form of navigation was using the sun for guidance when traveling among uncharted territory. This could have led folks along miles of impractical and meandering routes that also eventually become established as highways.

wisemoon
06-03-2010, 09:25 PM
This has really been an interesting and thought-provoking thread. I have done a little research on the topic, and thought I would throw in some additional comments.


Folks would have followed the easiest routes to landmarks visible at greater distances. They would not have had maps, trails or anything to guide them by except for the occasional glance of that landmark for which to get their bearings again.

Actually, maps have been around for a really long time. Your assumption that "they would not have had maps" really depends on the level of techonological advancement of the civilization in question. For a nomadic, pastoral or tribal culture, one without a written language, it's probably true that they would not have maps of the sort we think of today. However, many of those cultures did have very sophisticated ways of navigating, trail marking, etc.

On the topic of Roman roads...it's true that a large, well funded civilization would be required to actually construct the roads. A culture that had slave labor, or a standing army that needed to be occupied, would almost definitely build such paved roads as the Romans built. These roads were multi-purpose: more efficient transport of armies, yes--but also efficient means of transporting merchandise, raw materials and resources, and important rulers and dignitaries were also very important motivations. Also, one should not assume that because the roads may have been built to keep the armies occupied, the engineering was of lower quality. Roman engineering was EXTREMELY sophisticated, and after the collapse of the Roman Empire, their techniques and knowledge were not surpassed until the 18th-19th centuries. While some Roman roads succumbed to time and the elements, there are thousands of miles of Roman roads still in existence today, and Roman roads were used quite extensively throughout the Medieval period.

Roman roads were known to cut through terrain obstacles, but did not always do so. I'm not sure there is documentary evidence for why theywould do it sometimes and not others (I'd have to do more research on that). There were other societies that also built good roads--there is evidence in Great Britain for sandstone roads paved with clay-gypsum mortar that date back to well before the Roman occupation. Also, the Persian Empire is famous for The Royal Road and other roadway systems, which could allow a courier to travel over 2K km in six days. Additionally, there is evidence that tar was used in road paving in Baghdad in the 8th century (due to the easy availability of naturally occurring petroleum deposits). The main thing all these cultures had in common was that they were large, they had achieved a measure of peace in their realm, and they were reasonably wealthy at the time of road construction.

An area that has been wracked by war, or constant conflicts between tribes, petty kingdoms, etc. would not be capable of building a road system simply because there would be too much disruption, and too much consumption of resources. Constant war would also cause destabilized government, and a constant struggle just to survive, meaning technological and scientific advances (and the inventions accompanying them) would be set aside or abandoned entirely. This would also have an effect on the types of roads available.

Finally, there are many types of unpaved roads, and many ways of paving roads as well. Many forms of minerals have been used in the construction of roads. The Romans made a form of concrete out of lime, volcanic ash, and gravel/sand, that in many ways was superior to modern concrete. Wood planks and logs have been used, bricks have been used (usually in cities, not in highways), etc. Ridgeways, unpaved roads going along the tops of hills, were extremely common in the ancient and medieval periods, and some are still in use today as leisure walking paths. Secondary roads did not just arise from animal paths, but also formed as paths for driving herd animals to market, or as pathways winding between fields.

Hope some of this is useful to someone. One last thing--people often assume that ancient cultures had less technology or were less capable than our modern society. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Romans, the Persians, the Moors, various Chinese Dynasties, the Greeks, the Mesopotamian cultures (Babylonia, Sumeria, etc.)--ALL these civilizations achieved amazing things, and we are still uncovering and rediscovering elements of their technology and scientific knowledge. Even in the Middle Ages, heck even in the so-called DARK Ages, people had access to a lot more sophisticated devices and processes than the average person is aware of. I suggest some of the following if you are interested in this subject:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_technology
http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/prehistory/ancienttech/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_technology
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_inventions

Of course, it's usually best to follow up a Wikipedia article (or any encyclopedia, for that matter) with finding the sources listed as references (believe it or not, many Wikipedia articles are well-researched and have extensive references).

Juggernaut1981
06-03-2010, 10:40 PM
I saw an excellent video in a western civ class years ago that discussed roman road building at length. According to the video, building (paving) the roads was a secondary concern. The primary concern was to keep a standing army from sitting. : ) It was proposed that if soldiers were given too much time of their own, the free time, and the discussions that go with it, could sow discontent and could lead to rebellion. By keeping the troops busy building roads and working at other tasks, in between campaigns, the rulers were actually maintaining their control over their soldiers.

Take that for what it's worth. But I would draw the conclusion that if building roads was primarily busy work (useful in itself but not the primary goal), perhaps there wasn't as much forethought involved in the planning of the roads. If that's true, roads could end up more haphazard than we would otherwise imagine. Following coastlines and rivers, and using the most economical route when dealing with obstacles would certainly always be true but if road-building is a less important project, they may not have assigned their best engineering minds to the project.

If you have the army making the roads, and the central government isn't bothered what the army does as long as the army stays obedient and ready... then the Army gets to decide where the roads go. Most of the major Roman roads (from what I remember) lead out from Rome, to places where the Army expected to need to send Legions in the future. They go from one military objective to another, one defensive point to another, one hotspot of dissent to another. Where more efficient (like say the Alps) they built tunnels using a simple rock shattering technique (build a fire, leave it for a bit, throw water/snow at the heated rocks so they crack and shatter, clear the mess, repeat). They were often short tunnels that cut through the major peaks and tended to be nearly circular (rubble was often used to make the flat road surface rather than hauling it out by hand to dump it in some valley you just take it maybe back 100m and crush it up so you can make it flat).


Roads are the least energy paths, generally, that also meet any major point of interest. You connect all the points of interest to each other by the paths that minimise the distance between the major points and also connects to the minor points along the way. I'm sure there is a nice bit of matrix algebra that could do it... but I can't be stuffed figuring it out or actually doing it.

Iapetus
06-10-2010, 09:58 PM
I tried writing out a reply to this a few times, but in the end I think I'll just write what goes through my mind when I start to build a map.

Roads are going to be one of the last things I do when making a map. My first concern is the geography, because as it was said earlier, animals want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. I start by pinpointing the locations where I know I want cities to go for sure. I always plot the ones near obvious water sources first, like near the mouth of a river or on a lake. Rivers are a traditional mode of transportation, so there will often be a lot of cities/towns/villages on rivers, as it makes trade easier.

I then create a new layer for a rough sketch of the roads. No frills here, but I simply connect the cities where waterways cannot reach and it would make sense for there to be roads. If you know some of the history and economics of the world you're creating or at least have an idea, this is where it starts to affect road planning as well as the geography. There are some cities that will become hubs of trade and/or travel, and others will not. Anywhere where trade is a big factor to a city, it will be politically important to the region. There are countless stories in history of battles fought to control these sorts of cities, as they can control how to tax people coming in and out of the city, and therefore receive a cut of the money being earned. (If you want a classic example of a strategically important city, look at Constantinople, nowadays known as Istanbul.)

Also consider religion in the region, and if there are certain sites/cities that are important. Do the people take pilgrimages? Is it something only the extremely devout do or does everyone do it? Is it something only available to the rich or the poor? Look to existing religions for hints on where to go from here. I can't speak for all, but I do know that most of the Christian denominations I've heard of don't say that their believers should take a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in their life, despite the city being extremely important in the history of the religion. In Islam, the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca during a specific time of the year) is one of the five pillars and an important part of showing devotion.

Lastly, as roads are expensive, you might not have all roads, but you might have some trails. These are worn over the passage of time, and make me think of the picture posted earlier in this thread. So, maybe you will have both, depending on your map?

Gidde
06-11-2010, 12:30 AM
I second what Iapetus said, only I then add in more cities where the roads that connected the main ones end up connecting, crossing rivers, etc.