Mapping Vancia

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All right, kids, this week, we’re doing something a little different. About a week ago, I set up a tripod and tried my best to do a Livestream showing off my urban mapping chops. See, I’ve been working on this project (for fun) for about a year. It’s not that the project has taken a year of constant work. It’s more that I break it out and work on it in idle, bored hours. See, I ran an urban campaign (The World that Never Was) set in the city-state of Vancia. The city was loosely based on Ravnica, the Magic: the Gathering setting. It was founded by the archwizard Ezri Fahima. Over time, a number of powerful magical guilds established themselves in the city. But then, one day, Ezri disappeared. She left a power vacuum and the seven magical guilds have been vying for control, along with a few other organizations, like religious organizations, the City Watch, and the Mercantile Guild. And I decided to map the f$&%ing thing.

So, first of all, I’ve archived the Livestream. If you want to watch me map out a city and babble about it, it’s an interesting watch. I’m a self-made mapper, so I made up all of my techniques (except for a few high school drafting classes back in 1994 or 1995). There’s some stuff about roofs, marking water, and figuring out where s$&% goes in a city. Enjoy!

And now, for a bunch of notes and pictures.

First of all, BUY CITYSCAPE! I s$&% you not. The book is great for designing a city and it has a bunch of city maps and the good bits of the book are system agnostic. Buy it. [[EDIT: Thanks to Loric in the comments, that link now goes to the PDF version on DriveThruRPG – AGM]]

Second of all, if you don’t want to buy Cityscape, you can use the D&D 3.5 DMG Web Enhancement. Check it out. It’s very useful Hopefully, WotC will keep it in the archives. If not, hopefully someone is smart enough to keep a PDF of it around. Not that I would keep a PDF of something copyrighted by WotC and share it if asked. Fortunately, for right now, it’s still online.

And now, because the camera was kind of crappy, here’s a gallery of high quality photos and scans with a few notes. So, enjoy.

The Plan and Overall Layout


Firstly, this is the plan that I mentioned in the video. This shows all of the different districts of the city. Basically, the zones. They show where the residences, businesses, and services are located. That’s what comes from Cityscape or the Web Enhancement.


And this shows the entire project, which is two sheets of paper by two sheets of paper big, currently in progress.


This shows the named neighborhoods of the city. Each of the gates of the city is dominated by a statue of a creature that Ezri Fahima sculpted (she was a sculptor, artificer, and magical artisan). So, three of the wards inherited their names from the gates.

Stream’s End

Here’s a nice, clear picture of the work that was finished by the end of the stream. It was pretty small area, mainly because of all the theory and explanation that came before it. Working on my own, such an area would only take about fifteen to thirty minutes.


A Tour of the New City



This is the mostly finished western half of the city, mostly called the New City. The city expanded west as the population grew. It began with the construction of a pair of aqueducts that brought fresh water to the western half of the city. Ezri Fahmia entered into an agreement with a group of dwarves who left their clans to dig the canals and aqueducts and established a new clan in the city, The Watercoursers. No one is quite sure what Fahima offered the dwarves in return for their agreeing to give up so many years on such a massive project that cost them their clanhood, but it must have been something quite worthwhile.


The area known as Swallows’ Bluff sits atop the water on a rocky cliffside. The southwestern portion of swallows bluff is architecturally distinct from the rest of the city. It is dominated by flat, multi-level buildings connected with bridges, domes, and monuments. This is where the dwarves of Clan Watercourser built their homes. To the northwest, you can see The Shambles, a shantytown where the most impoverished residents of Vancia eke out a living.


To the east of Swallows’ Bluff is the Seawatch. It is dominated by the massive coastal fortress of the Vancian City Watch, Devilfish Keep. Nearby, the three towers of the Legion of the Golden Chimera rise. They are an organization of warmages devoted to magical skill, tactical cunning, and martial prowess (the three heads of the Chimera). Ezri Fahima snubbed the guild’s offer to serve as the military and police force of the city and established her own City Watch which she made independent of the laws of the magical guilds. They have never forgiven that. And now the Watch the Golden Chimera are fiercely vying for authority in the city. There are also two massive temples. One is devoted to the Goddess Taia whose devotees are monotheistic. The other is devoted to a pagan god of war and tactics.


Northwest of Swallows Bluff, the most notable feature is another neighborhood that has unique architecture of its own. This little neighborhood is home to a large population of communal city goblins. Note the ramshackle nature of their homes and the planks that span the spaces between some of the roofs. Across from the goblin neighborhood is Minstrels Row, a collection of theaters, taverns, and less savory services. The corner of the neighborhood is dominated by a tavern owned by Larialla Ivyleaf, an elf and a collaborator with the Redcloaks. The Redcloaks are a vigilante order. At their best, the protect the weak and impoverished who get caught between the machinations of the city’s guilds. At their worsts, they are anarchists and terrorists trying to tear down the power structures, even if they have to take the city with them.


The Canal Market is the commercial center of the New City. Along the coast is the Vancian College of Wizardry. This arcane institution is the weakest of the seven guilds that (try to) rule the city. It was established with the idea that anyone with magical talent should be given the opportunity to study, a view that some wizards find scandalous. Built around the ruins of an old watchtower of unknown origin, the college expanded haphazardly. The building has the look of something misshapen and on the verge of collapse. And, given the near bankruptcy of the guild, that may not be far from the truth.


The largest statue in the city, and considered by some to be Fahima’s greatest work, is the manticore statue clearly visible in the square beyond the gate named for it. Most of this neighborhood is fairly dull, though. Residences, shops, a few taverns. However, north of the canal, a public park has become the permanent home to a halfling caravan. Well, permanent is a bit of a misstatement. There is always a halfling caravan here now. But individual halfling families and their wagons come and go daily. There is also a popular tavern on the canal with outdoor seating beside a water and rock garden in the elven style.


The northernmost portion of the New City, The Gold Quarter, is dominated by a number of sizable estates belonging to wealthy merchant lords and ladies. While the city is ostensibly in control of the magical guilds, those with the money control trade and the city has practically no natural resources of its own. That has allowed mercantile guilds to flourish despite their comparative lack of political clout. And this is where the wealthiest among them dwell. However, they too live in the shadow of magic. In the center of the gold quarter, the bright elves have established a grove-town. It is a maze of beautifully carved wooden terraces, homes, businesses, and patios sheltered by otherworldy trees nurtured by the elves. At the center of it all, the Spiral Tower. This magical guild of bright elves is one of the seven guilds controlling Vancia. Though they stay neutral and withdraw from most political matters, they do maintain enough of a voice in politics to make it clear they DO have some sort of agenda. What it is, though, none but the elves can say.

A Free Gift

And now, here’s a free gift. This is the mountain city I mentioned and showed off in the stream. Feel free to download and keep this nice, quality scan. Use it for whatever you want. Enjoy (click on it for a larger view) and then save the image.

Mountain City

The Future

I enjoyed doing this Stream. But when I watched the video back, it struck me as being kind of dull and slow-moving. So, I’m not sure if people would want to see more. However, I would love to do this on a more regular basis as time permits. So, if you like the idea of seeing more of these streams (either live or on YouTube later), please let me know. And understand that the next time, a few things will be different.

First of all, my webcam had trouble resolving the fine details. However, I’ve discovered I can use the beautiful iPhone 6 camera as a web camera and it has NO trouble with the level of detail. In fact, most of the images above (the ones I couldn’t scan because the map is taped down and taped together) came from the iPhone 6. So, I’d be using that going forward.

Second of all, I’d spend a lot less time introducing things and just get right to working. I’d like to do more interesting areas of the city than just a tiny residential neighborhood. And without the introductory material, I could cover more ground.

If you think you’d like to see that, leave a comment and tell me so. If you never want to see this crap again, also let me know. Either way, I won’t devote another weekly feature article to it. This is just something a little different. A chance to show off some of the creative process and some different GMing skills and maybe inspire you all.


10 thoughts on “Mapping Vancia

  1. That video was cool, and it is impressive how many GMing skills you have. Maybe it is because I am a Sensory-driven gamer (even if i am CRAPY at drawing things, I get really excited when my players come up with illustratons for their characters and scenes from the game), but to me it was one of the most awesome videos about mapmaking. Also, the cityscape and web-enhancment for the 3.5 DMG tips were great!

  2. I’m enjoying your transition from critic to one that is also a content-producer. I always have trouble coming up with political institutions and other interesting groups when I run campaigns, and Vancia has provided some much-needed inspiration. I would love to read more about it.

    • Actually, come to think of it, an article about building coo factions and institutions would be interesting, at least to me. From what I’ve seen, they are an essential background feature of any setting, allowing for players to connect their characters to the world straight out of the gate, and provide interesting NPC’s and quests for the players to go on/interact with.

  3. Well done, Angry. That is one helluva beautiful map, and I respect your hand-drawing skills. I used to spend that kind of time (and using all the architect’s templates as well) drawing meticulous layouts as well. Then I had kids. So pretty much all GM prep time went out the window. Nice work!

  4. I would love to see more of your work streamed! I’m currently learning how to draw my own maps, and your video was extremely helpful.

  5. For me personally, one of the toughest things to do is making city-maps, and making them realistic and detailed. I always end up with just saying: “Uhm, yeah, so in this area there’s shops. In that area, people live. In that area, fancy people live… And… Uhm… Ooh, market place! I’m so smart.”
    Then again, I still consider myself a relatively new GM with equally new players, so maybe there’s hope for me yet. But seeing what you’ve made here is amazing. It goes two ways; On one hand, it is a bit staggering. I know that even if I manage to make cities as realistic as what you did, I’ll never be able to draw that well (Or draw well in general.) But at the same time, it motivates me. It finaly gives me a clear idea of “OKay, THAT is what a city can look like. That’s the sort of stuff that is important to make a city feel real. That is a detail worth putting time in, if I have time to spare.” And that is a wonderful thing. Because now I at least know which direction I should go.

    TLDR: I’d love to see more of this. Thanks.

  6. I would definitely love to see more videos like this. I really like the format of having the post with the video embedded so I hope you keep that trend alive in future projects of this nature.

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