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Creating Fantasy City Maps for Roleplaying Games With GIMP 2.8 (2.10.12)

I've been drawing maps for D&D since first playing the game in '78. Playing online requires digital maps, so I taught myself using GIMP.


Creating a Map from Scratch

I've been making maps for some time, and when I find a tool to help me, I usually take advantage of it. Lately, I've been learning the in's and out's of GIMP 2.8 for creating fantasy world maps of the photo-realistic type (see my other hubs for more info). Now I am creating a town map.

The most difficult part of the map-making process is coming up with an idea. Here's a few examples. What does the town or city look like? Where are the buildings? Is there a wall or a river?

Well, I found a solution.

Screenshot: Roleplaying City Map Generator

Screenshot: Roleplaying City Map Generator

It's All in Using the Right Tools

I found something to make my map making way easier. It takes all the stress, or at least most of it, away. It's a free little utility called Roleplaying City Map Generator. The utility is no longer supported but can be found at this site as is. Follow all precautions when downloading and installing software.

You can make so many different types of map ideas. I say map ideas because this utility makes outlines for you to use and expand on. I usually go through many, many variations before one clicks, and I take it to GIMP to finish it off. There is no way for me to suggest anything but try it out and see what jumps at you.

Setting up GIMP for Your Town File

To export your generated city map, click on the option on the map screen itself. It brings up a dialog box with some options. As I usually make my GIMP screen workspace to be 900x900, I chose the image size to save as 800x800 pixels and in 1x1 sections, so you only have to deal with the one image file. Make sure you turn off all labeling and keep the default colors. Then hit create and save to a place where you can find it to import in GIMP.

  • Open GIMP and make a New layer 900x900 with 600 dpi resolution and a transparent background. Fill this layer with white.
  • Go File-Open as Layers... to open your city map file.
  • Next scale the image with Layer-Scale Layer... and set to 900x900 or whatever default layer size you are using.
  • Now using the Select by Color Tool, we make new layers for each of the colors on the map. Water, Walls, Towers, Roads, and Buildings.
  • You should end this step having seven layers. Background, walls, towers, Water, Roads, and Buildings as well as the imported map layer (which we do not use again).

Working on the Layers

Each of the layers we've made so far are base layers. Do not alter a Base layer. Make a duplicate of the layer you wish to work on and edit that one. Save the base layer for when you decide to make changes or start afresh.

  • Make a duplicate of the Building base layer. Edit the buildings as you need to.
  • Select by color and click on the black of one of the buildings.
  • I chose grey as a roof color but you can choose whatever you wish. Use the bucket fill and fill the layer.
  • Apply a filter. Filters-Decor_Add Bevel... Set thickness to maximum (30) and uncheck the check boxes. Select OK.
  • Next adjust the colors. Colors-Brightness-Contrast... Slide the Contrast up until you like what you see.
  • Add a drop shadow. Filters-Light and Shadows-Drop Shadow... Set Opacity to 100. Select OK and then redo the drop shadow. Merge the two resulting layers into one darker drop shadow layer.

That's it for the buildings layer.

Building Roads

Make a copy of the roads base layer. Edit any changes before working on the layer. It 's much easier to edit the roads while they are white.

  • Add a new layer. Name it roads background.
  • Add a texture to that layer for gravel.
  • Add a bevel to the roads... set to 5

Building Backgrounds

This is where the artist in you has a chance to shine. Making a background depends on the geography of the area you town or city is set in.

Scroll to Continue
  • I set a base background color of grey and rendered so difference clouds over the layer.
  • I colorized the layer to a light tan.
  • Pick a very random brush like Grass or Smoke or Sponge set to very large I washed in contours with light and dark washes. You can find many different instructions online for how to achieve the background you'd like.
  • Once you achieve the background you like select the water layer.
  • Select by color and click the non-water area.
  • Now make the background layer active again so you see the non-water area is selected.
  • Now bevel the land around the water. Filters-Decor-Add Bevel... thickness set to 20.
  • You can go over the layer again with light and dark touch-ups along the waters edge.

Sometimes it is easier to create the background if you toggle off and on the other layers while you are working.

Raising the Walls

You can go simple or complex with the wall around the town. If it is a city wall, I would make it elaborate with crenelations and such but with a town I simply outline the wall with black and then use a drop shadow.

  • On a copy of the wall layer, select the walls.
  • Outline the wall by Select- Grow... grow selection by 1
  • Use the bucket tool to fill the wall sections with black.
  • Bring the selection back to wall thickness, Select-Shrink... shrink by 1.
  • Fill the wall selections now with the original wall color.
  • Lastly, add the double drop shadow.

Building Towers

Towers, like the walls, can be made simple or complex. I am building a town with simple walls and simple towers.

  • Select the towers.
  • As with the walls. Outline the Towers in black.
  • Fill the tower selection with a metallic gradient.
  • Use the Decor-Add Bevel a couple of times. ( thickness at 30)
  • Finally add a Drop Shadow (with X&Y offset of 6.)

Final Results


Finals results and touch-ups. To finish this map off I added trees and farms. I also added a castle, a church and a wizard's tower.

As I was building the map I started building the story of the town. Walking the streets I noted which buildings were the blacksmith's shop and the local watering hole, The east gate will be called either the Wizard's Gate or the Hanging Tree Gate. The west gate will be the Forest Gate.

What kind of story do you hear when creating your town?

Made with GIMP 2.10.12

Made with GIMP 2.10.12

Please Comment If You Like and Want More.

Frost Birch (author) from Canada on March 26, 2017:

Creating maps is a hobby. Some maps are quick and functional others are a work of art. It depends on what you need at the moment.

Creating a cross stitch is an awesome way to make a permanent map and a wonderful way of combining hobbies.

Porshadoxus from the straight and narrow way on March 25, 2017:

Back in the 90s I used Campaign Cartographer, with mixed results. Finding a suitable printer for maps was difficult with that program. I've not tried any of the GIMP mappers.

Nowadays, I pencil sketch coastlines on plain white paper, photocopy before adding details, then play around with land features until I get what I like.

I'm also cross-stitching a 36" x 24" map on pre-manufactured cross-stitching cloth with the 'oatmeal' background style. The 'oatmeal' style gives the map the look of very old parchment. It's a long project being that large, but it's also cathartic on stressful days when work or writing doesn't go so well.

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