City tile ideas

After showing off the city map tiles for Wayfinder #4 (previous post) it got me thinking. The square format is repetitive and blocky. Also, the directional lighting means the tiles can’t be rotated for variety without it looking like there are 4 different suns. So, whilst they are pretty, they have their drawbacks when trying to create a large map. I also feel that creating a whole city at this level of detail is a bit of a fools errand. That’s a lot of tiles to build a district, let alone a full city.

So I’ve been playing around, and because this is a personal project rather than a commission, I can make my mulling public. So here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

free city tile for fantasy city maps - sketch and ideas

Here’s some of the logic behind the design:

  • The hexagon solves part of the problem with the squares. 6 sides means six different orientations, so one tile can be repeated over and over without being obviously repetitive.
  • The roads all enter the tile at the center of each side, so the tile will line up with any other tile.
  • The non-directional drop shadow on the buildings means that there’s no directional light to cause trouble when you rotate (or flip) the tile.

I had a very rough and ready play with this tile to see what I could come up with:

free fantasy city map tiles in use

This looks promising. The rotation and detail add enough variation. The Hex structure is obvious in the edges, but that doesn’t distract me too much and the roads are interesting enough to pull the attention away from the hex tiling. The smaller scale hopefully results in the viewer understanding that it’s an impression of urban sprawl rather than a detailed house by house representation.

The next step is to create a tile for the different major types of city district:

  • Rich – large houses with space and gardens
  • Middle income – big houses close together. Market places and squares
  • Slums – high density sprawl
  • Docks
  • Warehouses

The outstanding problems with this are how you add features that don’t take up a full hex.

  • I could create stylised icons that sit above the map and allow a GM to clearly locate a feature without trying to accurately depict it. This will definitely work, but it feels a bit like wimping out.
  • Create a transparent object smaller than a hex and drop it on top when it’s needed. This works for something like maptool, but wouldn’t work with a printed tile. It also won’t work with lining up roads.
  • Create versions of the core tiles with specific features added in. It’s doable, but this could quickly end up with lots of tiles very quickly.

The kind of special features I’m looking at so far are:

  • Temple/Monastery
  • Castle
  • Barracks
  • Park
  • Reservoir/lake (rivers are a whole separate issue…)
  • City Walls
  • Ruins
  • Lighthouse
  • Open Air Bazaar
  • Riverboat casinos (thanks Azhrei – no idea how I might depict those!)
  • Barracks/parade ground
  • Wells
  • State buildings
  • City center tile where roads converge on a square or building
  • Jousting field
  • Rivers and bridges.
  • College/University
  • Garbage/refuse sites
  • Caravan staging area
  • Tanneries/renderers/smelters (near docks)
  • Bathhouse
  • Hippodrome/stadium
  • Great Library
  • Farms at edges
  • Low density sprawl at edges – this avoids a city that just stops at the walls.
  • Any others?

27 thoughts on “City tile ideas”

    1. Thanks – though I’m sure I’ve seen it somewhere else so I don’t think I can take credit for it. Any particular locations you’d like to see?

    1. Those are interesting ideas – though I’m not sure if the lighthouse would really show up on a full hex tile. The wizards academy compound and outdoor bazaar would though. I’ve added them to the list.

  1. I could create stylised icons that sit above the map and allow a GM to clearly locate a feature without trying to accurately depict it. This will definitely work, but it feels a bit like wimping out.

    I disagree: rather than wimping out, it permits the GM to not be locked in to any particular format for that particular item. For printed tiles, you could use those vinyl stickers that can be peeled off and placed / moved / replaced elsewhere and then put back on the original sheet. Watercourses could be done the same way, with different widths available, or if the tiles are covered with the right coating, just use dry erase markers to write them on top.

    For the list:
    Spaces for garbage / refuse sites: often, these will be the ruins, but sometimes they’ll be open areas… or a well-run city might even have a dump.

    Consider warehouse districts near the caravan staging areas/dock areas and this is where the tanneries, renderers, smelters, etc. would be as well.

    1. Good point on the warehouse districts and the tanners. All good cities need a proper industrial area.

      For the question of the locations on top, I think i the short term you’re right for the specific locations. Tokens that can be dropped on top of the tile to represent locations should work fine, and have the advantage of working well with VTTs as well.

      Rivers are a different matter and need to be integrated into the tiles themselves, as they determine how roads work, and how traffic flows. It should be easy enough to adapt each major tile to have a couple of different river configurations.

      Thanks for the comments. I think you’ve brought me round to a solution for the specific locations. I’ll see about drafting up some more sketches over the weekend.

    1. That would require me to get a lot better at Cocoa than I currently am, and buy an iPad. Now I’m all for the latter, but the former might take a little time 🙂

      Tile based mapping would be a great thing on the iPad. They’re just so crisp.

  2. What about color codeing some of the buildings after the map is built? Red=temple blue=blacksmith etc..

    1. That’s not a bad idea at all. It might be best to have a few buildings on each one coloured, and allow the GM to decide what they want to key the colours to.

  3. WOW!
    What a magnificent concept here. Cities can be such a pain to generate efficiently. Perhaps having some blank tiles with a dry erase surface (sim. to the Munchkin write your own cards) There are dry erase crayons in retail that are great for game mapping. With a few or these on hand those special features could be added very quickly.

    1. Hmmm, I’ll have to figure out printing first and then how to get them coated do that they can be dry erased. Am I right in thinking that you’d like to have these pretty sparse – not too much more detailed than the sample above? That woud make it easy to detail with dry erase markers. Another option is to have location counters that are placed on top of the tiles to mark specific places.

  4. Hi Jon,

    I found your post for accident in the Cartographer´s guild and got amazed. It´s been years since i´m trying to make the city map for the capital of my fantasy kingdom, but i always stuck in the house and street positioning (they always look way to artificial for a chaotic medieval city.

    When I saw your hex tile idea, I started playing with above my city map in Photoshop and the result was fantastic. I´m using as a guide to placing houses in a more natural way.

    Ypu mentioned to be working in tiles featuring big houses, warehouses and soo long. Any idea when will come to reality? It will help a lot in my project.

    About the map, as soon as it get´s ready, I will place the credits for how your idea help me out.

    Congratulations for your work, it´s just amazing

    1. I’d love to see what you come up with!

      This is on hold whilst I clear some big pressing commissions (always important to clear the paid work before working on personal stuff!) but I’ll put up a new blog post when I get the new tiles polished up. So keep an eye out (end of this month/early next month I would guess).

      I’m really glad you like my work. Good luck with the city map!


  5. I love this idea. The possibilities are endless with a system like this. It could also be expanded to include the local country side. I’ve been trying to come up with a similar concept for hexagon dungeons for some time.

    A set like this for CC3 would be awesome!

  6. Fountains & Wells. Most ancient/medieval large cities supplied water through aqueducts pouring out into fountains or similar.

    You might also want to do the easy but possibly leads-to-repetition angle of making sure the roads always meet each other.

  7. Cool idea, found this on google+. Are they supposed to be used for fantsy settings only? Otherwise you may add a lot more infrastructure like power plants, idustrial areas and so on. The edges of the tiles are a problem, as I immediatly thougth that there would be roads along the edges if the buildings are so sparse. It should be much more crowded.
    I think infrastructure is always the key to make a city believable.

    And it may be a real problem, but what about topography?

    1. As it stands – just fantasy. The featured buildings (castles/mills/tanners/potters etc) would be added on top as a separate layer.

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