Saturday, January 19, 2013

Easy D&D Village Maps

The post on my blog that gets the most traffic by far is on village maps.  What that says to me is that there is an unmet need for village maps to be used in dungeons and dragons.  The sad thing is, that post of mine is about me wanting village maps too, so anyone hitting it looking for a map before Friday night's game is going to be disappointed.  Let's rectify that.  I'll show you an easy way to generate village maps and then give you a couple.

As with most good ideas this is just a mash up of great ideas by other people.  Take roads shaped like letters and dice tossed to represent village inhabitants and we're off (I'm simplifying 1d30's approach a bit).

So, first step, draw a road shaped like a letter.  Here's C:
 Toss d6 to represent huts:
Trace them and record the pips in the traced squares.  If it looks too skimpy toss some more:
I want my villages to be a little more medieval so they are mostly subsistence farmers in huts with few of any other type of building.  But they will have churches, tithe barns to store the crops they owe the feudal lord and maybe a manor house for a reeve to live.  I tossed some dice to represent those buildings:
And that all gives you an organic-looking village like this:

By using alphabetical village names, you'll never forget what the general layout of a village is.  You can have sets of names ready for different cultures and use their geographic meanings to help.  Caerdon, in our example, means "hill fort" so I can make its road run around a central hill.  The Church and Tithe barn are some of the oldest buildings and also at the highest elevation.

By making the pips represent people we can see at a glance the population of a village.  We can use some simple guidelines to figure out some other useful information.

If we say two pips is a married couple, any number after that can be their children.  We can make things easy and say only one spouse from any household is combat-ready and children don't fight.  But, large families will have older children that can help defend the village.  So +1 for every die, +1 for any 5s and +2 for any 6s gives us a plausible count for who can bear arms in the village.  For Caerdon that gives us 16 (+1 for each die) +6 (no 5s but we have three 6s) for a total of 22 peasants to raise if orcs attack or PCs start setting things on fire.

If you are leaning more medieval and don't have shops, you may need to determine "Can players get food for themselves here?"  An easy way to figure this is to suppose single pip households have extra food and that for each they can provide rations for one person for one day.  (Single pips could also be the elderly and infirm, but with the bigger families I think it will all average out and we're trying to keep things simple).  So for Caerdon, there are 6 single pip households, food and drink would be available for 6 dungeoneers if they have something worth trading.

Other Buildings
Villages might have a blacksmith to make tools and if they're by a waterway they might have a mill to grind their grain.  Some villages might not have these buildings and will have to cart their grain to a nearby neighbor to grind it.  If you want a simple way to see if this particular village has one or the other without having to add more steps or extra dice you could say: "If two adjacent huts are the same number, one is a blacksmith."  For Caerdon, with two 6's and two 1's, that's a yes.  Alternatively, you could make it two adjacent odd numbers or adjacent even numbers, whatever helps you get the village done and feeling real for you.

Obviously the more dice you throw the bigger the population.  I was rolling 8d6 just because it works well for tossing them.  Then, if it looked sparse I rolled more.  I think once you get up around 20d6 on a single page of paper things will be getting cramped.  If you want bigger villages, just add another piece of paper.  You could do it lengthwise to make a long village that follows a road or waterway or make a square.  A square of four pages with the density of dice I was using on each, will get you to populations that would probably be hitting the upper bounds of "village" and start moving into "town."

Here are two other villages I whipped up, Ashborough:
and Brey:
The forms of the letters and random layout of the huts can give you lots of ideas for what the village does or its history.  You can see, for Brey, I decided that the back of the "b" was a bigger, older road.  The lower loop is a little sparse in huts, but maybe it's a village green.  Maybe this village gathers livestock there before driving them to market.

I made Ashborough's central stroke a road, but it could have easily been a waterway with the village straddling it.  In fact, I was thinking of making all the vowels in my village alphabet explicitly on waterways.  That's fewer than normal probably, but it's easy for me to remember.  Here, have a second version of Ashborough:
I apologize for the crappy psuedo-isometric view.

Well, there you have it.  It's quick and simple, but I think it will help me populate my world with at least 26 villages that look distinct and have an organic feel to them with some history implied.  Hope this helps.  And if you want to come up with 26 village names in a different culture to share, link them in the comments.


  1. That sure is a clever way to combine those two mechanics.

    Maybe a whole town/city could be made with this making each neighborhood as a village. And of course each one would have his own name.

    By the way, Olchester would be a very isolated place.

  2. Nice!
    Åltown, Ärg-by-Sea and Ölborough would all have small ponds...?

  3. Okay, this is very cool! And, very simple. I love it! The only thing I really ain't tracking is the suggestion on "other buildings". Perhaps you wouldn't mind responding with examples of what you suggest with Brey and Ashborough? I see quite a few buildings with the same number of pips in them, so assume you could extrapolate something from that, but how? Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hey, thanks.

    @Khazike: Zaks S's Vornheim uses numbers and letter to generate the neighborboods and streets of a city, so he's done that. But you could certainly use this method to organically grow what starts as a village in your campaign into a bigger location. Yeah, the olchester folks are all track stars running around the circle ;)

    @Jensan: Thanks, and that's a cool thought, or maybe those are strange monoliths.

    @The Bane: Thanks, and Ach, my bad, I left out the word "adjacent." So either one of Brey's two "4"s or the two "6"s could be a smith. And you could say one of Ashborough's adjacent "2"s is a mill, since it's on the water in the second map.

  5. Neat idea!

    You could use other dice for other kinds of buildings. Like, d8 for textile producers (blacksmith, weaver, carpenter/cooper, potter, etc. or 2 numbers for each) and d20 for odd buildings (with a list of 20 options.) That way d6 could always be residence blocks.

  6. You could also use randomly chosen kanji instead of letters to seed your town's streets and rivers.

    Use a site like to get the kanji, or just bring something written in japanese/chinese to the game and pull the characters from there.

    Benefits of using kanji:
    (1) There's thousands of kanji, so you won't run out very fast.
    (2) Players will take longer to pick up on your technique, unless they are already familiar with an eastern language
    (3) Unlike scripts, kanji have meanings, so you get some raw ideas to add unique flavor to your town
    (4) Kanji are more complex than most alphabets, making them suitable for diagramming larger-sized settlements and towns

  7. I think I'll try this right now. Thanks!

  8. Awesome way to generate quick and easy villages and townships. I will most certainly be using this! And here is an alphabet of village name with French sounding name, hot off the press!

  9. @Telecanter - great, now I have been trying different random methods to do this digitally! And, even now, I resist the urge to figure out how many six sided dice it would take to make up the various 'standard' sized settlements - by population - with a 3.5 person average per six sided die... must... stop... myself! ...Oh, and scale... if each home is... say 25'... dang you!!! =)

  10. Thanks for the comments and sorry for the delayed response.

    @Andrew: Sure. I used the d4 for church because it kind of looks like a steeple. But a wildcard d20 or d30 could be cool, you might end up with a wizard tower or something.

    @D.D.Stevenson: Great idea, thanks. A little harder to remember but you will get town with different lay outs could work well for a different culture, maybe hobbits, with the more swirly lines (going around hills)

    @Gordon: Thanks, hope it works well.

    @Neophage: Great! Thanks

    @The Bane: Trust me I know the urge towards realistic simulation. In a way a lot of my tools are not because I can't do a thing, but because I over think things that makes things harder and more time consuming. So my tools are about me getting out of the way of myself. And I think it works pretty well, these maps, for example, while simple, have an organic feel that they probably wouldn't have if I'd engineered each one. Hope you're having fun.

  11. Fun I suppose is relative. I love this stuff but it also makes me bat-shit crazy too!

    I completely know where you are coming from though. I just take it way too far! For example...

    Now I am thinking of yearly rolls. Each year, perhaps month, or quarter, you could roll a d6 for each 1 and 6 pip household. Match the number and something happens to them; death (matching 1s) or a youth reaches adulthood and builds a house (matching 6s). Multiple new adults pair off and make 2 pip homes. Oh... then you could roll for each home and see if they gain a pip! Or, roll for all buildings; 1 = death, 6 = birth/marriage, Nay! 1 = death, 6 = no change, a result above current pip total = birth (Harder as the household gets closer to a 6 and higher chance of a death I would think). So a 2 pip home has a pretty good chance of a birth on a 3, 4, or 5. Hmmm, too good of a chance of marriage, a 1 on a 1 pip home = marriage (another form of death - j/k) and a 6 on a 1 pip home = death. I guess it could be backwards for 1 pip homes.

    Production... I would just rename feeding adventurers to "Support" instead, seeing "Production" as communal. So, production, ((6 - number of pips) -1), this would mean a 6 pip house is working at a deficit though. If you went with (6 - # of pips)... seems counter intuitive. I seem to recall a 2:1 ratio somewhere. But can't remember if 1 rural person could feed 2 urban, or they could feed themselves and one other. 2 urban I would think, so a 6 pip home could feed 12 urban people.

    And, would I roll 2d6 where the max result could match, or 3d6 where the average would be closer (10-11) when rolling up the next larger settlement? Interesting, now there is a chance the urban pips couldn't be supported if I went with a 3.5 d6 average result...

    A surplus and we are good, but more urban than they can support; more taxes for the poor rural pips, which could result in a modifier to our death roll (would small pip families have more/less/same # casualties as a large pip family?), or higher chance of plague in urban areas, or both? A complete, baffling mini-game all its own I have stumbled upon!

    I have officially hit bat shit crazy status now! See what I mean? As I breath, I then say, "Does it even matter in the scheme of things?" and "Why does it matter to my OCD gaming brain?!"

    Sorry to hijack your replies with ramblings, I guess this is why I quit blogging. =) My problem is building tools I don't need, nor anyone else would need, out of compulsion and then drilling so far into them that I forget why I started the thought exercise in the first place.

    Now, back to rolling d6 settlements!

  12. No worries. Your hyper focus is yielding some interesting ideas. One thing I always try to strive for is ease of remembering along with plausibility, so I like your revision to 1 = death and a result above current pip total = birth.

    For production I might try to simplify things a bit to just take into consideration number of huts, or total pips, but that could lead to some cool domain level stuff. Thanks for the comment!

  13. Thumbs up on this. I think I'm going to play with this method later.

  14. Thanks. Hope it's fun and helpful.

  15. Brilliant! Already getting some gears working... and I have an alphabet die as well...

    Maybe a way to handle the non-residential buildings is to have a d8 table of posibilities and roll a number of d8s relating to the number of d6s you roll (say 1d8 for ever 4d6 you roll). A church/temple/fane is always present, and its size is related to the number you roll on a d4. That way you could roll out a whole village in one handful. Different colored die for the village leader or "where is the baddie" or whatever you need for this place.

  16. Thanks. Sounds good. Color is another possibility I don't think we've mentioned yet. You could toss all d6s and if those of certain colors hit certain numbers . . . nah, never mind I like the idea of having a distinct die type like you said.

  17. Nicely done! Thanks for the idea! I'm going to combine this with my Scattergories d20...

  18. Thanks. I'd forgotten about your Scattergories/npc matrix post (I remember reading it now). Maybe I should get me one of those dice. You could use it to see what local village an npc is from or where random sandbox event are occurring-- near village that begins with that particular letter.

  19. So just putting it out there, a lot of medieval (European) farming villages followed a pretty predictable pattern. Basically a main street (draw an arc or a straight line) with houses on either side. Behind each house would be the peasant's private plot of land. This may be less visually interesting, but it's a bit truer to history (and also way easier)

    In terms of generating a village like this, you might roll 3d10x2 to determine the number of households(give or take depending on desired size). If you wanted to get a bit more of what the village looks like, you could roll 3d10 separately for each side of the road to get an irregular number of houses on each side.

    Then you'd roll 1d6xN (where n is the number of households) for your population (Early medieval households probably had about 3.5 to 4 people on average, so d6 is ideal).

    To determine where other features were (or if they existed at all) you could roll on a table. Or you could roll a 1d6 to place the manor house and the church (or any other feature). 1 is on the left side at the bottom, 3 is left side in the middle, 5 is left side on the top (Even numbers represent the right side in the same way)

    There are some figures for the number of businesses for medieval villages. They're a lot rarer than D&D generally assumes. Therefore, I'd roll on a table for smaller villages to see which 1 or two business were also present (tailor, blacksmith, miller, etc.)

    You could also make a natural features table and if you were ambitious, a position table (I'd just use 1d6 in the way I described above to place something in one of the 6 'zones'.

  20. Thanks for the comment. You could certainly make the villages more linear. I were doing it that way I would want some way to make them distinct. One way you might do it is to play up the geographic features of the names (Ashborough has bunches of ash trees around it, etc.) or maybe have adjectives describing the village or memorable npcs that start with the same letter (Ashborough is ancient, or has a bunch of alcoholics).

    Also, as a lazy DM, I want as few generation steps as possible. I realize rolling 3d10 will give you a bell distribution, but I might just throw 15d6, note which side of the road they're closer to, then record the pips as above.

  21. Hi, I’ve done some thinking about this methodology and given you inspirational credit here:

  22. The only problem with using a random toss of the die to place different "industries" is that the type of industry will often dictate its placement in relation to the rest of the village and natural resources. For example, you do not want the tanner to be upstream and you cannot have flax production without a large, standing pool of water or a mill without running water etc. In addition, land use for agriculture along with garden plots, animal pens, communal areas (grazing etc) also have to be accounted for. Certainly this method could be used to generate a village that had little if any realism to it, which would be fine for the average adventuring party.