Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login
How to design a town by torstan How to design a town by torstan
Today a quick mini-tutorial. This isn’t a photoshop tutorial, nor is it a tutorial for a polished finished map. This is a step by step in my own town creation method when I’m creating the first sketch layout. The key here is to have the town layout make sense.

1. Draw the terrain and major locations

Towns adapt to their surroundings. The first thing to do is to draw the terrain the town sits on. In this case I’ve picked a peninsula with a larger outcropping at the end. The coast is rocky and broken apart from a low bay on the NE.

Once you’ve placed the terrain, use that to inform the locations of the main buildings. Here the castle goes on the highest promontory, with a commanding view of the sea and the land around. The cliffs on the promontory provide natural defences. Any land based threat must come down the peninsula, and the town will want to defend the harbour, so it’s natural for there to be a wall across the end of the peninsula.

After placing the major defences, I add a harbour for fishing boats (food), a market near the docks (commerce). I place another couple of large buildings – 4,5 and 6 that could be a temple, inn and wizard’s tower respectively – the trifecta of important fantasy town locations.

2. Add the main roads

Roads get people where they need to go. In this case, the road needs to take a fairly direct route from the main gate to the castle. Remember that the roads will follow the contours of the terrain. Avoid straight roads in fantasy town maps – they tend not to have heavy earth moving machinery so roads need to go around obstacles on the whole. It’ll help sell the sense of a naturally evolving town.

Once we’ve laid in the main thoroughfare, add main roads to the source of food and commerce – these will be the high traffic routes. Add in a couple more – here I add the second road to the NE through the smaller gate.

3. Draw in the minor roads

With the major roads in place the map looks bare. Add a web-work of smaller roads to fill in the gaps. Remember that the majority of the smaller roads are going to be to get people to the major roads. Add kinks and corners to give the minor roads some visual interest, and again follow the contours of the land.

4. Sketch in the individual houses

This can take a while, depending on the scale of the map and the level of detail you’re going for. In this sketch I was drawing on paper at roughly 2 inches square so a house could be little more than a dot on the map. Here the houses are a means of blocking in the space around the roads. Ideally when you’re done with the houses you’ll be able to see the roads even if you remove the road lines.

And that’s it! You’re done with your sketch. Add a key and it’s a functional town map. Going from here to a presentation map is a different issue, but that’s a matter of style rather than substance.

I hope you found that useful as a walkthrough. Feel free to ask questions and share around. More tutorials on the blog here: [link]
Add a Comment:
Wisetria Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
This is really going to help with my writing. ThanksHug 
hansenjames Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2013
Thanks so much for this! I'm working on just general maps for my fantasy novel and this is fantastic! So simple but so ingenious.
Bigt123productions Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is awesome it helped out a lot Thank you
torstan Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2013
You're welcome!
ScotlandTom Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
You've taken city design and distilled it to it's most basic and straightforward concepts. I had a basic understanding of the concepts you've laid out here, but I wouldn't have been able to put those concepts into a step-by-step process as you have. Thank you very much for this tutorial. It's so simple and so incredibly useful.
torstan Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2013
I'm glad it's handy. I know others approach it in a different order, but this one's battle tested and works for me!
chashio Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2013  Professional General Artist
This is an excellent tutorial for a medieval town/city layout. I'll have to make a few maps with it to get a better feel for drawing cities. Do you have any thoughts on how a more recently built town/city would be laid out--some place without a fortified castle, perchance? Or a modern design, from the last century or so? Something with an industrial aspect, if that's not outside your range of interest?
torstan Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2013
Many towns still grow organically - so they are focused around an intersection, or a mine, or another source of trade and commerce. Those would swap in for a castle for a hub, as well as a city hall for the admin center.

Newer towns also have the advantage of city planning and earth moving equipment, so err on the side of smooth lines and straight roads when building your road layout.
chashio Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you.
Add a Comment:


Submitted on
March 5, 2013
Image Size
155 KB


7,634 (4 today)
206 (who?)

Camera Data

iPhone 4S
Shutter Speed
1/20 second
Focal Length
4 mm
ISO Speed
Date Taken
Mar 4, 2013 5:57:21 PM -05:00
Adobe Photoshop CS5.1 Macintosh


Creative Commons License
Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.