Mapmaking 101 – Ecosystems 101

Welcome to ‘Ecosystems 101’ (please take your seats?)

Here will be discussed the rules of creating a realistic landscape, and the cities that flourish (or flounder) within them.

First I will set up the basic rules of an ecosystem in reference ONLY to the original Stronghold. You can make adaptations for Crusader on your own. Afterwards I will give step by step instructions on how to create a map based on these rules. The rules here are contained within logical order, so here goes.

Rules of Terrain:

1. Mountains have foothills.
2. Wind causes noticeable erosion to the ground. Mountains and hills should be shaped accordingly.
3. If you have a deposit of stone, see to it that there is a reason for such said ‘deposit of stone’. Try ruins, (so that deposit is the useable remains), or a mountain, where a cliff drops off into the stone deposit (in other words the mountain fell in on itself in a landslide and gave you all the setups for a quarry.)

4. Mountains ‘fade’ into foothills, and foothills ‘fade’ into flat ground. This can be achieved easily with the ‘equalizer’ tool.
5. If there is an island in a river, it should be narrower facing into the current, due to erosion.
6. Just using the hill tool does not create a realistic hilly area. Using the hill tool would be great for barrows, as the hills made with it look like perfectly round manmade bumps. To create hills, combine use of the hill tool, and the height tools (mid-plain, high-plain, etc.). Run over this a few times with the equalizer for a convincing effect.

7. Secret tunnels won’t exist in real life. Plan accordingly.

Rules of Water:

1. Water follows terrain.
2. Both creeks and rivers have banks. Make them.
3. Water does not flow in canyons through hills. Rather water flows around hills and creates canyons in areas it already flowed over through erosion.
4. There are no random fjords in rivers. If a river becomes shallow enough to cross, all the water that made it deep must go somewhere. In simpler terms: Streams and rivers widen tremendously (double or nearly double) at crossing points. They narrow back down at normal points.

5. Such changes are not sudden.
6. If a river or creek divides and fans out over a large area, it becomes a river delta. The many small streams this forms are shallow and narrow. They will be fordable very often. By their nature of being everywhere and being shallow, swamps would form nearby, like on their shores. Build them.
7. I know you like those eye-candy fountains, but remember that plumbing was so primitive in Dark Age’s Europe that they either didn’t have toilets, or used the fact that fluid, semi-fluid, or slippery materials flow downhill, and put the toilets in the tallest towers. A fountain was beyond them back then. They had already lost any Roman arts brought to them on Rome’s first conquering spree.

The Rules of Plant and Animal Life:

1. Where there is water there is life.
2. In specific, plant life.
3. These plants will not grow too close to any shore, because rivers wash the soil away, ocean tides strip the land too, and lakes have small tides, which are larger by the size of the lake.
(Meaning being: the bigger the lake, the farther back from shore the trees will grow. Trees can grow right up to small ponds though, because they are too small to show any signs of tide.
4. You cannot just drop off from thick forest to a bare plain. First the trees will start to thin out and be replaced by shrubbery. After that the trees will disappear altogether, and the shrubs will thin out too, appearing only sparsely on the plain.
5. Trees do not appear in random locations. Trees appear near other trees, and sources of water. Shrubs, needing far less water, can. The exception to this rule is dry river- or creek-beds. This is because ‘they were growing there before the water was diverted’.
6. Trees and shrubs will appear less often near deer and rabbits, as those eat them. They will be a bit thin near their spawn sites.
7. Animals such as deer and rabbits should show up relatively close to water sources and the food/protection offered by plant life.

8. Carnivores like the bears and wolves will show up close to water and herds of deer or rabbits. Not too close though, or you will find your rabbits and deer are killed very fast.

The Finite Rules of Human Habitation and Existence:

1. Forget all the eye-candy bridges. Humans didn’t have the technologies, resources, or motivation to create such works of art in the Dark Ages.
2. There is probably not a single castle in the real world that was built in a bad defensive position and countered with a massive garrison. Don’t put one in your world either. Rather a castle would be in the best natural defensive position available, and manned only with what could help it withstand a siege.
3. Back to bridges. The only large stone bridges will be directly outside of castles and towns, and be along a road. If there is a hunter’s bridge way out in the wild, it wont be level, it will be rickety, and most of all, made out of wood. There will be no stone bridges in an area far from stone resources. Likewise there will be no wood bridges twenty miles from trees. Bridges are made out of resources at hand. If there is a bridge with no purpose, see to it that there are ruins nearby and the bridge is badly damaged. (I’m not even going to bother explaining myself anymore! I always wanted to pretend ‘All-Knowing one’!)

4. All bridges have purpose. If there is a bridge over a stream in an uninhabited area of the map, there should be a herd of deer nearby to explain its presence.
5. Villages don’t have stone walls. They have uneven palisades.
6. Towns don’t just stop growing as soon as they are self-sustained. Due to nature’s call and innumerable birth rates (to make up for massive death rates encouraged through lack – or blatant disregard – of hygiene), rather, they expand. There would be a primary wall around the keep and early buildings, then there would be more town, surrounded by ruins of a stone wall. After that there would be another layer, this time surrounded by a wooden palisade, as the town planners had already learned the folly of wasting expensive stone.
7. Towns don’t spring up in the manner of ‘all the houses on this side and shops on the other’. Towns tend to be spawned by agriculture, so in the center would be farms and keep (unless it was built to be a castle in a strategic location), and then houses, a few shops (no more than those houses could handle), more farms to the side, more houses, shops, and so on.
8. Villages tend to be supported by a mix of hunting and farming. They will be near deer, but also farmable land. They will not be on the edge of a forest, as they cut the trees down to build the town. The forest should be a bit back from a village – though the village will be somewhat close to a forest for its wood needs. A village will have a simple Saxon Hall for a keep.

Finally, the steps on how to create a map that follows these rules

1. Get out a piece of paper, a pen, and a pencil, and mark the paper into a rough square.
2. If an island or shoreline map, sketch out the general shape of your coastlines. Darken this so it can be seen easily.
3. Shade in your landmass, the higher the elevation of an area, the darker. Just do this bit more or less random. Pen over cliffs. Mark out places where water would gather, then follow its flow to wherever it leads, remembering that water always goes on the lowest course available to it.
4. Using the rules set down earlier in this article, decide (and mark) where anomalies such as resources, marsh, and plants would show up in this map.
5. Now with everything before this in mind, calculate out a few centuries of erosion, and add them to the landscape. Allow this to change river courses. Just remember to leave their dry beds behind. Make it obvious too.
6. Now that you have all this down, decide where animals would congregate, and mark that down too.
7. Using all this, decide where there will be human habitation. Mark it on this, and see to it that there is a rough picture of their defenses and layout on the paper, remember to base this all off of the lay of the land.
8. Well, you are almost done now.
9. Go into the map editor and start recreating this as best you can.
10. Artistic license never hurt anyone (to my knowledge) so change your map a bit from your sketch plan of it.
11. Now ready your scenario or whatever you plan to do with your finished map.
12. Wow! Look at your beautiful map.

Thanks for reading this (you must have if you are reading the thank you, so I am not being presumptuous).

Hope it helped (I can see it now… people cursing the day I was born…)

So bye!
~–meh um yeah~–

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