Building a World Map with Carcassonne

September 26, 2010    

When running a game like Dungeons and Dragons, I often find myself spending countless hours building a world map. I don’t really know enough about cartography, topology or geography to make a realistic map and the people I play with never put much thought into the map. They often make a straight trek from location to location. Recently, it occurred to me that having everyone help build the map might get greater buy in.

Carcassonne, a board game of map tiles, came to mind as a good way to build a kingdom. For anyone who hasn’t played, the base game is made up of cities, roads, cloisters and fields. There are rules for two or more players to take turns placing the tiles and score points. When the game is done, you’re left with a map of roads and cities of various sizes. Because you draw the tiles in a random order, the overall design becomes very organic.

Part of a finished Carcassonne game

How do we translate this in to a world map for a fantasy game? Another mechanic in the game is deciding which player gets the points for each completed item. This is tracked through little wooden men of various colors — one for each player. Before the group starts to play, assign a race from your role-playing game to each color token. For example, the elves could be represented by the green guys. During the game of Carcassonne, as a player completes an area, jot down which race makes their home there. It is worth noting that multiple players can score points from a single area so it is likely that you’ll have mixed race cities, roads and fields.

After the game concludes, hand draw or use a camera to capture the image of the map. One by one, go down the list of items and ask the players to name and describe them. Since the rules of Carcassone allow for places to go unclaimed by any player, you should use those areas to account for races that weren’t represented by any player. This should cover the other playable races and NPC races like goblins, orcs, etc.

Here are some quick tips for handling each type of structure:

  • Cities: The more tiles included in the city, the higher the population. If the city is unfinished by the end of the game, this could represent that the city walls are either under construction or recently damaged. It might also represent a port city.
  • Pennants: Some city tiles are worth extra points and are marked by a pennant. In the world map, cities with more pennants are higher up the feudal food chain. For example, the king might call the big pictured city home since it has three pennants.
  • Roads: Ownership of a road might be translated into a few different things. For example, maybe the dwarves were responsible for carving a road through a mountain. Or a path through the forest is known for elves that often hassle travelers.
  • Cloisters: Since only one player may ever own a given cloister, it is easy to treat them as a temple for that race’s patron deity. If a cloister goes unclaimed, it might also be a dungeon just waiting to be explored.
  • Fields: Although treated as farmland in the actual game, use fields as any area of open land in your world. This could be anything from a dense forest to desolate tundra.

You can also use Carcassone to expand the world when the group wants to travel off the original map. Sketch a quick guide on a sheet of paper to represent the boundry of your current map and then play another full game building off that template.