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Mapmaking 101 - Simple vs. Complex

An opinion article on map design, by Lollard

As a kid in the 70s I watched the animated movie Jungle Book at the theaters. In the movie I can remember a bear character who sang a song, "The bear necessities". It was a pun on the saying, 'the bare necessities'. What the bear was singing about was that people only need the basic needs of life to be happy. I think that the same reasoning applies to map making for Stronghold and Stronghold Crusader. This article will attempt to illustrate that simplistic design will achieve more artistic effect, and therefore be more entertaining and fun, than maps that use elaborate, complicated, or showy design.

When I decided to write this article, I wanted to stay away from just looking to the rating system to judge what makes a particular map "excellent". There is an argument out there against rating maps. Some people refuse to rate maps or leave any feedback at all. We will never know what the majority of people think about most maps, because only a small percentage of people actually leave feedback as compared to the number of downloads. This also can mean that a map can be easily overrated; all that is needed is one person to love it. I think that designing a map that will stand out for years and make people say "Nice (insert vernacular) map!" is the desired end result of all contributing authors. This can be partially measured by the total number of downloads of a map, and to a lesser degree its overall rating. But I believe there is more to exceptional maps than that. That's the magic I want to define here. We all know that getting good ratings on the board is important. But, I want to show that maps with simple and realistic design, and that have "less rather than more", will be more of a success (and more fun) than a map that has been 'overdone' and packed with every kind of detail and building type just because they are available to place.

Definition of art, in

"Human effort to imitate the work of nature"


"A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities: the art of building"


"The conscious production of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium."

We are creating "art" when we design and publish maps. We imitate nature (landscapes) and human endeavor (castles) in map design. We also produce and use sounds in maps. But more importantly - the way a map looks is directly proportionate to the quality, artistic level, or FUN of a map. Also by the third definition, the act of "production of colors and a graphic medium" is art. So, therefore you can surmise that the more artistic a map is, the more fun it is. I'm not attempting to define "art", but more importantly show that Stronghold maps are "art". And therefore, to make a better map you need to incorporate more art into it. But how? This article looks at imitating history as an example.

Anglo-Saxon medieval society placed worths on resource areas. For example: a piece of fertile farmland, a flint mine, a deer run, a section of forest (free chase), a peat bog, or a water source all had worths, and the building of settlements were centered ON these prime areas. All initial buildings would be placed to maximize a worth's potential. You also have to remember that the British Isles were covered in forest around this period (circa 1000 AD). This woodland needed to be cleared from around a worth, and sometimes the cleared area would become a worth itself (arable land). But as a settlement progressed and developed, the need for specialists arose. These new specialist buildings still needed to maximize the worth's potential, but also be strategically placed so all persons could readily come and go between worths and the new building. The bakeries would not be too far from the mill, for instance. The granaries would be nearby the fields (personal experience - I picked spring onions in Suffolk one summer). Making the settlement more efficient and therefore maximizing the worth's value, was the emphasis throughout the early medieval period. This is when the first one-lane villages (street town) were starting to be seen. A single maintained lane would make travel between support buildings more efficient. Hedgerows were also used when marking the boundaries between worths. Coastal areas were valuable because of the readily available stone exposed by tidal erosion. The stones were hauled (sometimes hundreds) of miles and were in constant need for new construction (mainly churches). If the first buildings constructed were centered on the worths, then the supporting buildings were built nearby those buildings, and so forth. The simple and practical was more important than flashy or eye catching (exception being cathedrals). If map designers use this basis in their maps, they will see more enjoyment gained from being historically accurate (therefore more artistic and fun).

As far as defense is concerned, this came later. During the early medieval period when worths became more and more developed, Feudalism flourished. In this system, a lord would own the worths and peasants (or serfs), would work them and be taxed. As a priority, the lord needed to be protected from another lord coming and killing him and taking control of his worths. So early motte and baileys were constructed. The motte was mainly a raised earthen platform where the manor house of the lord was placed. Walls soon were added at the top of the motte to complete the defensive structure. Later a walled "bailey" area below the motte was built to protect the worth and support buildings. As wood buildings progressed to stronger stone structures, higher and thicker walls and gates were added to the motte and bailey defenses. Despite the advancements, old motte and bailey design can clearly be seen in many castles that remain today. But the worths still needed to be worked and maximized and support buildings still needed to be easily accessed by all. Neglecting this simple economic landscape idea can make a map look unrealistic and lower the quality (making it less fun to play).

An example of an early motte. The map pictured here is titled Early Medieval Village - located in the Castle Builder Maps of the Crusader Downloads.

Dry River Valley, by Alvarez_23, is the extreme of basic starting design. I have to compliment the author on this. The ruined buildings are not part of the worth here and are not used. Deciding where to place your granary is critical, and this illustrates the need to make the most of little. Deciding on the worths and effectively using them are the goals on this map.

On this map the obvious worths are the starting farmland. But the wood resource worth is not exploited in the design, and the stockpile is located next to the keep. To maximize the wood resource the stockpile would be placed closer to the last trees. The keep is also placed right next to the farms, but this seems too close - a more effective design would have the stockpile closer to the wood resource and the keep on an elevated and defensible area. This area would have a history, and if it was a successful settlement, then it would be set up to fully utilize the given worths.

I think that if designers use common sense and try to incorporate basic historical patterns of development (like worths, mottes, and hedgerows) in their maps, then they will see results. As the old saying goes : "for as you sow, ye are like to reap."

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