OSR: Fast Mapping: Part 3, Barony -> Terrain, Castle, and Village Level

In the last post, we generated some baronies. Now it's time to generate some terrain. Normally, you'd do this first, but it saves a lot of time to generate politics first and terrain second.

Barony Size
According to some clever people, whose work I am going to paraphrase horribly, the size of any administrative or territorial unit is dictated by 2 conditions:
1. Population
2. Projection of Services

Or to rephrase, for the feudal system
1. How many people you can effectively govern without collapsing or delegating authority
2. How quickly you can put down rebellions and protect your borders

Condition 1 says that more densely populated baronies will be smaller, unless the person who owns them can govern effectively. Condition 2 say that our baronies have to be size-limited. We used 1d8 6-mile hexes.

A Generic Medieval army can march:
3 miles/day = very disorganized, few roads, or bad weather
6 miles/day = disorganized, poor roads
18 miles/day = highly organized, good roads

Therefore, the baronies generated by our system are well within the limits of condition 2. Any baronies owned by a Count or a higher noble can be larger and more spread out, as the their owner can always call on vassals to do their dirty work. We can more or less ignore condition 2. Condition 1 will help you assign revenue and population to the baronies, either with an existing system (ACKS or Pendragon) or with a simplified system I'm going to write up eventually.

Step 1: Borders Dictate Terrain
Remember those 18-mile hexes we generated in Part 1? We generated 3 kinds of regions: "Core Regions" (the full circles), some "Developed Regions" (large circles), and some "Undeveloped Regions" (small circles).

Just for the area you're using for your game, or your immediate needs, draw some blobs that cover all the adjacent hexes of the same type (Core, Developed, Undeveloped). Ignore county borders. If you've included Wastelands or Mountains or Magical Lava Pits, use a different colour or something.

Step 2: First Pass
You can already see where this is going.
This map is fairly unreadable, but that's OK! I'm just providing it to save on flipping back and forth.
The peninsula is entirely "Undeveloped", with a long band extending inwards from the coast. There seems to be a rich, fertile area to the east, with another one to the south. We also have a border between two counties (Pellamy in red, Gallian in purple) right in the middle of the peninsula. To me, that implies a mountain range. Nothing too dramatic, but enough to make travel and farming difficult. The mountains will be forested. This also conveniently explains the Glass Tower elf enclave I've added.

Even with low mountains, one side of the peninsula will receive more rain than the other. I'm going to say that the Pellamy (north, north-north-east) side receives more rain. The terrain is likely to be boggier but more fertile.

Any borders between baronies near the mountain range are likely to be defined by rivers running from the mountains to the sea. I've made the rivers offset from the borders they represent.

There is also another pocket of "undeveloped" land in the southeast corner. It's not fully shown on this zoomed-in map. I'm going to say it's caused by another rocky, forested area, meaning the baronies (in the County of Divion (yellow)) of L:Grivens, H: Morgny, and Q: Colgrave lie in a valley between two sets of rocky, sparsely-inhabited areas. They are probably critical strongholds.

The county of Charmant (orange, south-east corner) is very poor, and is probably some remnant mountain kingdom absorbed in the distant past.

The level of detail you can employ here is limited only by your interest, time, and desire to worldbuild. I'm fairly happy with a few simple features, but you could easily create detailed river systems, floodplains, glaciers, and rocky highlands.

Step 3: Natural vs Unnatural Borders
The peninsular border between Pellamy (red) and Gallian (purple) is created by terrain. But what caused the straight-line border between  Pellamy and Divion (yellow)? The border cuts across several different prosperity zones. It's too straight to be a river. It seems like an unnatural border, one that is created from years of conflict.

Divion is also the richest county on this map, with a huge portion of its territory being marked as Core. Divion is probably one of the richest counties in the kingdom, and given its unnatural border with Pellamy, has probably aggressively expanded a few times in its history. The core regions of Pellamy border the core regions of Divion; there's no buffer zone at all.

Step 4: Notation
How you want to note terrain is up to you. From this point on, the usual worldbuilding / hexcrawl creation advice applies. I just use bands of different colours.

Step 5: Travel
In Core regions, every small city, large town, massive castle, or seat of power (black octagon) and small town (black triangle) is connected by a road to all nearby locations. It's a proper network. Use your judgement here, and add some bent roads, detours, or gaps where as needed.

In Developed Regions, all black triangles are connected to the black octagon, and the black octagon is connected to the nearest adjacent octagons. If a path between the nearest octagons would pass through a black triangle, just use that path instead.

In Undeveloped Regions, black octagons and black triangles are connected only to their 2 nearest neighbors. Roads lead in one direction and rarely branch.

Roads are large enough to march an army down. Tracks, wide enough for a horse and navigable in good weather, connect all locations, including villages not marked on this map. They wind through forests, cross mountains, and disappear into bogs.

You can now make educated guesses about which towns are trade ports, which towns are backwaters, and which castles defend critical regions.

Step 6: Forests

Now that you know your major roads, add forests to any regions that require them. Core Regions and Developed Regions are rarely heavily forested, while Undeveloped Regions are often mostly forest. Feel free to add bogs, fens, or moors at this stage as well. These are significant, mostly unmapped, dangerous, heavily treed areas. They might follow the borders of a barony for miles before disappearing. Some are hunting preserves. Some might be protected by druids or other, even stranger things.

Step 7: Castles and Villages

If we put every single village and castle onto this map, we'd rapidly end up with a completely unusable image.  

A six mile hex is still very big. Here are some approximate 6-mile hexes from the real world.Having a hexcrawl with one interesting thing per 6-mile hex is weird, given the sheer size of one of these hexes.

"Undeveloped Region" hex
"Developed Region" hex
Even in an isolated area, you can expect 4+ villages per hex. In developed or core regions, 2-3 miles between villages isn't an unreasonable estimate.

Similarly, there are castles everywhere. The black octagons might represent big, important castles, but every barony has at least one fortified location. It might be a tower on a hill, an old wooden fort, or a massive stone structure with multiple outbuildings and a nearby
village. All black octagons are assumed to also include a castle. All towns will have, at the very least, a stone tower and some sort of wall.

Castle Distribution:
Core Region: 1 castle for every 2nd 6-mile hex.
Developed Region: 1 castle for every 3rd 6-mile hex
Undeveloped Region: 1 castle for every 6th 6-mile hex

Borders: borders between rival counties or particularly contentious borders between nations have at least 1 castle in every 6-mile hex along the border.

Village Distribution:
Core Region: 1d6+3 villages or hamlets per 6-mile hex
Developed Region: 1d6+1 villages or hamlets per 6-mile hex
Undeveloped Region: 1d4 villages or hamlets per 6-mile hex

Step 8: The Church
In Part 2, you could assign a small barony to an Archbishop. Now, we're going to cover any small donations of land.

Land was usually donated to support a bishop or a monastery. Donations ranged from single fields to vinyards to villages to entire baronies. For the purposes of this simulation, we're going to ignore any donations smaller than a 6-mile hex for the time being.

If a barony has 6 or more hexes, there is a 1-in-6 chance that one of the hexes belongs to the Church. The local baron collects no revenue from the hex and cannot call on the inhabitants to fight, but the baron must still defend the area. The land either supports a large monastery or series of monasteries, or supports a bishop or archbishop directly. Church ownership of land varied between 6% and 10% of all cultivated lands.

Step 9: Done!

Now you can add your monster lairs, mysterious wizards, lost peasants, magic sheep, dragons, dungeons, and other stuff. Your standard hexcrawl rules now apply.

The entire process, from coastline to completion, takes about an hour for a standard hexcrawl-sized map, if you're working on hex paper and using pencil crayons and ink. Digital solutions take longer but are (mostly) immune to cat-based disasters. Naming all the towns and baronies is the slowest part by far, but you can skip them until they come up in play. 


  1. What are the wilderness exploration/travels rules you use like in terms of distance traveled and wilderness encounters? The standard chance of a wilderness encounter is either 1 in 6 of a day or a hex, so are there just people from every village who want to harass you/impede your travels?

    1. Not sure yet! It hasn't really come up. For general travel along a road, I roll on a general encounter/warning/omen/nothing table once every 6 hours.

      And yes, everywhere you go, there are people. You don't have to stop for them. The almost finished Table of Peasant Grievances will help.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I highly recommend you Angry way of handling travel. My party are really loving it.

  4. Would you mind sharing the transparent hex maps you used? I always end up having to stitch together multiple swathes of hexes in an image editor and it gets all cluttered and jaggy.

    1. I think I used this, but with white set to transparent, and multiple sizes stitched together and then cropped before posting. http://www.diceyhome.free-online.co.uk/Civ/Hex%20paper%20A3.jpg

  5. BTW, I was looking at some medieval maps of Britain and it seemed that each city had a road to the four nearest cities. I used this approach in my most recent campaign map and it is working very well. I have a real spaghetti tangle of roads, giving interesting routes across the counties.