Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Building a duchy using Carcassonne

My thoughts are running to an old-fashioned rump through sort-of-medieval not-quite-Europe, and I need a map. Most of my campaigns range across five, maybe seven locations, so I need a simple way to map out the starting area of play. A table of rumors about Far Places can handle any hint of the larger world.

Here, I want to show how you to turn regional map-building into a game. Or, to be more precise: how to turn the board game Carcassonne into a quick starting region. Someone must've had this idea before, but if so, I can't find their blog. If you can - leave a comment.


Confession: I get depressed at the thought of having to design an entire world. Generate continents, infer mountain ranges, deduce weather patterns, run a socio-political simulator for 3000 subjective years...what is this, a PhD? I like detailed world building like I like supernovas - from a healthy distance. If your tastes run differently, check this out.

If you're looking for a simpler option, read on.


My reference point is +Skerples' three post series on how to turn a coastline into a patchwork of counties, duchies and baronies, and even geography, all in the space of an hour. (Perhaps an hour made up of the magic fifteen minutes that Jamie Oliver promises his recipes take to prepare.) I'll basically be following his instructions, but offload some work on a finished Carcassonne board. These are the features that I want to involve:

  • generate a map of the county/duchy/province and its borders
  • get the area to divide itself into larger and smaller baronies
  • see at a glance which areas have been set apart as royal domain, granted to the church or claimed by xenophobic Elfs
  • divide the terrain into four levels of economic activity: one core area, and areas of developed / undeveloped / inaccessible terrain (this ties into +Skerples' excellent post on taxes and revenues).


Got all that? Read all those posts? Good. Forget 'em and get out Carcassonne. It's a tile matching game where you complete cities, roads, monasteries and farms, while you block the other players from completing theirs. Carcassonne will do the heavy lifting that Skerples handles with random walks. We'll follow his approach of feudal domains first, terrain second.

  1. Play a game of Carcassonne (~30 minutes)
  2. Place your capitol City, Towns and Villages
  3. Decide on baronial borders and land use
  4. Assign grants of land and enclaves
  5. Lay down some roads
  6. Place terrain features (including castles)

1) Play a game of Carcassonne (~30 minutes)

Wrangle some players. The more players and the nastier they are to each other, the more fractured the map will be. The map below was the result of a two person game with little rivalry - the structures are quite large and even got completed. Don't worry if you have holes in the map where no tile would fit. We'll put those to good use in step 7.

Take a photo, load in your favorite editor. I used Illustrator - find the complete file here. Or see if you can find translucent graph paper and copy your board in pencil: you'll need the big cities (including which tiles have shields), the roads and the monasteries. Mark the little decorative villages on the country tiles.

Part of the finished board I'll be using to generate this Duchy.

2) Place your capitol City, Towns and Villages

Carcassonne has you building walled Settlements across the map; these will be our region's developed or highly developed areas (will be detailed in step 3). In this step, we first place our Duchy's population centres ("City/Town/Village/Ruin") on these Settlement tiles.

In addition to regular Towns (~2500 people) and Villages (~200 people), we'll place one big regional capitol: a City of ~10.000 people.

Capitol: the biggest cluster of adjacent shields in a completed Settlement
The Duke or Count of this region will have claimed the most prosperous barony for themselves. Find the finished Settlement with the highest amount of adjacent tiles with shields (double value tiles). Place your regional capital right in the centre of this shield cluster - I've use a big circle to indicate it.

It's entirely possible to have multiple shield-clusters within one Settlement. If there is a tie for biggest cluster of shields, priority goes to the most central one on the map. The other sites will be rival Cities or Towns - your choice how much economic rivalry you want to have.

This Carcassonne map has quite some Settlements, but only one has more than one Shield tile. This will be our Capitol site.

Villages and Towns
Having placed your City, now go over the map and place Towns and Villages; these are the largest population centres for the individual baronies. 
  • A Settlement with a cluster (or single) shield tiles gets a Town (medium-sized circle).
  • Settlements without shields get a Village (smallish circle) on the Shield. 
  • You can place extra Villages on the decorated farmsteads of the other tiles.
  • See any Settlements that were not completed at the end of the game? Make them into a Ruin (or dungeon) - I like to use a half-circle that I scale with the number of shields on the tiles.

The Duchy's capitol and other Towns and Villages. Note that I immediately broke my own rule by splitting off one of these four clustered Shield tiles into a Town of its own. The Core barony can be more densely populated than the rest of the area.
Monastery tiles get the following settlements. We'll revisit them in step 4), but for now they have:
  • a Ruin if they're not completely surrounded by other tiles;
  • a Village if their tile does not border on any Settlement;
  • a Town if they border a Settlement.

Next step: the monasteries - in this zoom, none of the monasteries is completely surrounded by other tiles, so all are marked as Ruins. I also picked out the small hamlets in the green fields - these play no role in the board game, but they work nicely as a site for little Villages.

3) Decide on baronial borders and land use

In step 2), you placed Cities, Towns and Villages. Now we'll use those to divide the Duchy into baronies. Then the different tile types will determine how fertile and productive the land is.

Drawing baronial borders
Here's how you place borders:
  • Any road on the tiles becomes a border between baronies
  • Monastery tiles get a border around them
  • Draw extra borders between existing ones to separate population centres:
    • draw borders to break up any Settlements with multiple population centres
    • adjacent Settlements (with touching walls) get separated by a border
    • break up any long strips of Undeveloped land - these are too unwieldy for one poor Baron to effectively control. Add a Village or Town in these new Baronies
    •  still have a lot of big baronies (>7-8 tiles)? break 'em up, give them a Town or Village

Adding borders is a fussy process - I kept coming back to it from later steps when I discovered that baronies had really weird extensions. Either change the border, or think up a reason for the oddity. A valuable mine or stronghold worth having in someone's domain? For those following along in Illustrator, I outlined the edge of the board with the Pen tool, then drew internal borders with the Pencil (and sometimes the Pen). Note BRILLIANT reinterpretation of the misaligned tiles under the Capitol as a deep fjord.

Land use
Skerples' system tracks how intensively land is used (Core / Developed / Undeveloped / Inaccessible). This will tie into how well it's been explored - or how much revenue the local lord receives. You see why this might be of interest for would-be barrow delvers or social climbers. In any case, take out your coloured markers and mark the following:

  • Settlement tiles in the Capitol barony are the most productive: make them Core land - completely dedicated to productivity with many population centres. Add a Town or few Villages;
  • other Settlement tiles indicate Developed land - densely populated;
  • grassy fields outside Settlements are Undeveloped land - hard to farm or with poor soil;
  • any holes in the map are Impassable terrain; water, mountains, marshes and so on (step 6).
With land use covered, the map is starting to take shape. We now have the settlements and baronies and we can see which areas are likely to be rich or poor. This part took 15 minutes of using the Pen tool to make coloured areas. For clarity, I didn't connect the band of barony-crossing Developed areas down the lower left of the map.

4) Assign grants of land and enclaves

Remember those Monastery tiles? These are plots of land that are not under the control of the Second Estate. They may be literal monasteries or cloisters, or baronies governed directly by an (arch)bishop. If you decided to place any mountains near them, a Dwarf fort wouldn't be out of the question. If one is very remote from the main population centres, that's also an ideal place for a beautiful Elf enclave. Finally, any Monastery tiles that are not completely surrounded by other tiles are Ruins. This may be a literal ruined castle, a depopulated town after a cataclysm, or the site of a dangerous dungeon (like Nightwick Abbey). You'll have to decide yourself - Carcassonne can only take you so far.

In this zoom in, none of the Monastery tiles was completely surrounded at the end of the game, so all are marked as Ruins. I'll turn the top left one into a Royal Domain, the lower left can hold a haunted Cloister which a beleagured local Abbot is keeping for the Bishop, the one on the lower right is an insular town that is slowly sinking into the sea. Amazingly, people still live here and catch stupendous amounts of fish.

5) Lay down some roads

In tiles with Core or Developed areas, roads are maintained well. Connect all population centres in these areas with solid, mostly straight lines. In Undeveloped areas, sites are only linked to 1 or 2 neighbours; roads tend to become lines instead of a network and are poorly maintained. Get them to curve a bit more than the main road network.

Stick to the 1-2 roads per village-rule; it's perfectly fine if neighbouring villages don't connect. For an explanation, see step 6).

Road map. I made the main roads arrow straight - next time, I'll let them curve a bit more. The 2 roads per outback village-rule forces me into long lines or loops of road through the back country. That immediately suggests mountains and marshes that the road is trying to avoid. Just use the Pen tool again and modify the lines into either solid or dotted.

6) Place terrain features (including castles)

This is where you finally find out the geography of the region - most systems have you begin with that.
  • Core terrain: very little unused land such as forests or hills. Agriculture and lots of littles villages.
  • Developed terrain: densely populated with maybe a small forest or hilly region.
  • Undeveloped terrain: hilly or forested, or just infertile soil.
  • Impassable terrain: lakes, mountains, marshes and so on.

Now look for explanations for any final oddities in your map:
  • Any weird bends in borders or roads? Explain those by placing forests or brooding hills and marshes. 
  • Very, very straight borders? A good spot for a couple of castles (none placed on the map) to keep an eye on this contested border. 
  • Roads that don't connect nearby villages in Undeveloped lands, because you only got to use 1-2 connections per Town/Village in step 5)? Might be a good spot for a horrible canyon, mountain range or quick river.
Lastly, go over all the outside borders. Did you put down a mountain range with the neighbouring Duchy? Is it a contested border with lots of forts and castles? Can you add a river with lots of traffic (maybe upgrading a couple of Villages along the way because of the increased trade)?

Adding terrain features: some of the mountains/marshes were already in the previous image, here I just plop down some trees like a lazy Bob Ross-wannabe. I also broke the connections-limit for Villages in the top left, because I wanted a river as the border with the neighbouring Duchy and this was a good place for the road to cross over.

7) The longest phase - name those sites

By now you have a map full of baronies, ruined towns, Elf enclaves and more. You'll have a couple of mountains or marshes and likely spots for castles and dungeons. Now find a load of names for them. Make life easy on yourself and name the Baron directly after their domain: the Barony of Saxwold will be ruled by Edmund, Baron Saxwold

I could link you AGAIN to Skerples for a list of names (why not? here and here), or you can go enjoy my scraping of >1000 European barony names from Wikipedia.

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