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Thread: Keeping Map Distances Consistant

  1. #1

    Default Keeping Map Distances Consistant

    Hi! This is my first post, and I tried to find the most relevant thread to post this on, and this general one seemed the best.

    Anyway, I like to make maps primarily for D&D, and I was wondering, what's a good way to try and keep believable distances in your maps? For instance, I can say that Town X is 3 days travel from Town Y, but what's the easiest way to keep that distance consistent within the scale of the map? I've always had scaling issues. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Guild Adept Facebook Connected xpian's Avatar
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    Sep 2010
    Golden Gate Park Panhandle, San Francisco


    I don't have really professional advice about this, just some tips derived from what I've been doing...

    I like to use Google Earth and Apple Maps a lot. I look up historical European locations, like sections of English countryside, Greek landscapes, or Italian cities. I take screenshots at a set of standard intervals. For instance, I'll do a shot of the Parthenon where the scale in the corner says "0 to 350 feet". I'll pull back and do another screen shot, this one taking in a good chunk of Athens, where the scale says "0 to 1500 feet" (and this second shot includes the area of the first one). I'll do this again, grabbing a shot of Attica, then a shot of the Peloponnese, then a good chunk of the Mediterranean, each time pulling back a certain amount. Then I'll pick another prominent ancient or medieval location and repeat the process.

    In doing this, I'm trying to get a sense for how large certain features are, relative to each other. I'll look up travel times in the ancient world, where certain cities are said to be "so many days apart" by foot, or by sea. I'll make a note and investigate every time I come across a reference saying that "this island is visible from that mountain top"--for instance, if you read up on the tallest peaks in various countries, the accounts will sometimes mention some of the more prominent distant locales that can be seen from that peak. If you do enough of this, I've found you begin to get an intuitive sense for how far apart things are.

  3. #3


    I'm guessing you mean how to work out what's a reasonable distance for spacing of landmarks and the like?

    The main thing to keep in mind is that a pre-modern society is built around (effectively) walking pace. While you can travel in short bursts more quickly on horseback or the like, most people won't, and horses tire quickly, so the standard distance measures will be based on a speed of 3-4 mph. A league is probably about the distance you can expect to cover in an hour, unless you're travelling very light or on a very good road, etc. You're probably only going to travel in daylight, and you're going to need to stop for food, drink, rest, etc. so if you do pretty much nothing else but walk in a straight line taking that into account the average person can likely expect to cover 25-30 miles in a day. It might take a D&D party longer to cover that distance if they're stopping to fight random encounters, prepare spells, heal, etc.

    People are of course savvy business operators and will have worked this out. If two towns are a few days' travel apart there will almost certainly be inns and resthouses along the way catering for weary travellers, unless you're in the middle of nowhere. Coaching inns will probably be quite regularly spaced.

    A similar principle can apply to villages. A village which aims to be more than self-sufficient will need to get its produce to market, which means it needs to be within striking distance of a town, preferably a town you can get to and back from in a day while still getting a full day's trading in while there - so almost certainly no more than ten miles at the outside. Any settlement more than ten miles from another one is likely to be pretty insular, isolated and possibly backward. A town probably couldn't survive more than ten miles from the nearest village unless it had another means of supply (a port, or magical means of food production).

    Equally though you don't want towns too close together unless the land is really fertile and high-producing. There is a website - Medieval Demographics Made Easy - which goes into a bit of detail about reasonable levels of population density and the number of towns a given bit of land can support, etc. which might be worth checking out if you haven't already seen it. Those towns will tend to be fairly evenly-spaced: not completely regular, of course, and they'll tend to occupy strategic locations rather than just being plonked in the middle of nowhere, but within a smallish margin of error.

    Of course, if it's D&D you can ignore the rules, and you certainly don't want to be mapping every last village anyway, only the interesting ones, but it's useful to have an idea of what the rules are before you start breaking them or skipping over elements of them.

    As far as getting the scale on the map right, I'd probably try to work out where you want your features to be in relation to each other, and then work out the scale in accordance with the above sort of guidelines. Obviously there's a degree of common sense involved: if you decide that two towns are fifteen miles apart, there probably won't be an entire ecosystem in between them with mountain ranges, lakes and the like. But you might decide you want to put that in there, and then adjust the scale accordingly, on the basis that you're ignoring all the boring uneventful towns and villages in between.

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