In this post, I will share my experience creating city maps for my games. I will talk about the general ideas behind my approach as well as the software I use when creating the maps.
City maps differ from both state and dungeon maps because you do not provide exact numerical data to the players, but only relational information between the elements represented in it. The elements that I represent in my maps are: the districts, the city wall, entrances and exits to the city, any major bodies of water, and important locations within the districts.
Using the information available in the web enhancement entitled Building a City by the Wizards of the Coast, I was able to form my own tailored system for defining each of the districts. First, I use the supplement to get the districts names, the social class, and a few important guidelines on what that district should be all about.
The social class of the districts plays a important role, because it determines the city guard and thieves guild involvement in the crimes committed in the district, as well as the type of encounters that will randomly occur in it.
After defining the district, I move towards determining the businesses that operate in the city. To do that, I use the spreadsheet created by the hero forge development group called TownForge. This spreadsheet is available as a free download from the project page and is indispensable for rapidly generating all the little details about businesses that operate in the city, population breakdown by race and class, and even information that defines the city guard.
Once I run that spreadsheet, I proceed to place the businesses around the districts matching the two to create a cohesive whole. The placement takes into consideration the description of the districts . For example: The tavern district should have more than one tavern in it and if there aren't enough taverns to fulfill that requirement, I promptly run the spreadsheet again and generate those extra taverns.
The graphical representation of the city is not as important as the details that I have mention above, but I always provide one using a program called Roleplaying City Map Generator. The program is easy to use, it also creates really nice looking maps, and best of all, it exports the images as bitmaps which are easy to edit.
Once all that work is done, I run the City Descriptor Macro to distinguish the city by filling out information about the justice system, or about the city market for weapons and armors.
Using the system detailed above, you can have a very detailed city for your campaigns. With the usage of those random generators, it should take you no more than 20 minutes to finish an entire city.