View RSS Feed


Huge... Tracts of Land!

Rate this Entry
My, how the time flies! But I’m back, and I’m going to cover one final aspect of mapping - making maps in smaller scales than the typical 5' per square of a D&D battle map.

By “smaller scale” I mean a map of a larger area. Map scale is expressed as a ratio. For instance, a 1"=5' D&D battlemap would be a 1:60 scale (1 inch on the map equals 60 inches on the ground). A map at the scale of 1" equals 1 mile (63360 inches) would be 1:63360. Since 1/60 is a larger fraction than 1/63360, we would say the first map is a larger scale than the second. So a map of a bigger area is a smaller scale map, and vice-versa.

All that discussion of scale makes perfect sense when you look at paper maps. But the purely digital maps we use in Fantasy Grounds make the whole concept a bit fluid. We can zoom in or out, and we can resize the display window, so the whole notion of distance per inch of map loses meaning. What restores the meaning is the grid that we overlay. If we put a 50 pixel per square grid over the map, and declare that this is the equivalent of a one inch grid pattern, we now have a scale to the map that’s independent of the degree to which we zoom in or out, or to the size of the display window we use to show a portion of the map.

Grids in FG can be either square or hexagonal. Hex grids came to prominence in the 1960's, when they began to be used in wargames. Their advantage over square grids is that they allow direct counting of distance in six directions rather than four. So there’s no need to create some sort of “fudge factor” for diagonal movement, like you see in D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder. I happen to run a D&D 3.5 campaign, so I use a square grid for battles, but for overland maps I tend to use hexes. Not only is it more convenient to calculate movement that way, but it also signals to the players that they’re looking at a smaller-scale map.

So for the rest of this discussion, I will express scale in terms of distance per hex.

The reason you’d want a smaller scale, of course, is that maps become cumbersomely large if you try to show a large area at a large scale. Then too, that level of detail often isn’t useful. Even Tolkien didn’t map every 5' square between The Shire and Mordor. And some RPG’s make little to no use of tactical maps and miniatures, allowing map scale to be driven by questions of convenient size rather than some definite standard.

In fact, once you break loose from the needs of a tactical battle map, the options for map scale are wide open. What scale you choose for a particular map will just depend on how much area you need to show, and how you plan to use the map. A map of an entire world, to be used as a political reference will be best at a rather different scale than a map of the city of Rock Ridge and its surrounding area, intended for use in planning a siege.

I’ll give you some examples of map scales that I use regularly.

For maps of really large areas (kingdoms) I’m mostly concerned with figuring out overland movement. So I use a scale of ten miles to the hex. A party on foot can get about two hexes per day by road, and on horseback they can get about three.

For moderately large areas (a city and the farms and villages that surround it) I use a scale of 3.33 miles to the hex. This means that I can also overlay the 10-mile hexes, which helps me keep the placement of features consistent between the various scale maps as I draw them.

For smaller areas, (the immediate vicinity of a town or fortress) I use a scale of 100 feet to the hex. This scale shows individual buildings, minor terrain features like fences and small stands of trees, and yet allows me to cover several square miles on the map.

As I increase the scale (i.e. show smaller areas in the same space) I also increase the detail. At the 10-mile hex scale I show major trade routes and cities, but not minor roads or villages. At the 3.33 mile level I show minor roads and villages, but not footpaths or individual farms. At the 100 foot level I show footpaths and farms, perhaps even individual buildings.

You’re of course free to pick scales that work for you. A modern-era game may use much smaller-scale maps for overland movement, for example, since the characters may be able to cover a lot more distance in a day with modern transport technology.

You could use a map without a grid, just with a traditional distance scale on the legend, like you would see on a real-world map, or on the maps you see in literature. It certainly looks more “normal” than a hexagonal grid, and, in my eye at least, better. So I tried a gridless map, briefly, but in practice it didn’t work out so well. My group often resizes maps to conserve screen space, then zooms in to see part of the map in detail. But if the part of the map we were looking at didn’t include the distance scale it became impossible to determine how far one point on the map was from another. We quickly decided that practicality overruled aesthetics in this case, and reverted to a map with a hex grid.

I suppose if you were so inclined you could create maps without a hex overlay, and just apply the grid in FG as needed.

So what works for you? Do you use grid overlays for small-scale maps? What scales do you prefer for overland travel maps? What else do you have to say about maps? Leave a comment below!

Thanks for reading!

Submit "Huge... Tracts of Land!" to Digg Submit "Huge... Tracts of Land!" to Submit "Huge... Tracts of Land!" to Google Submit "Huge... Tracts of Land!" to Facebook Submit "Huge... Tracts of Land!" to Twitter

Tags: mapping


  1. dulux-oz's Avatar
    All of this is great info, and I'd like to thank Phystus for it.

    On a personal note, I use scales of 24 miles to the hex for my maps (what I call a Small Hex) because players can move 24 miles a day (this is based on the both the old 1E & 2E D&D rules plus my own experience as an Infantry Officer.

    If I need to go larger then 5 Small Hexes make up a Medium Hex, which is 120 miles across (good for a large County or Duchie - give or take), and if I need to go larger again then 5 Medium Hexes make up, you guessed it, a Large Hex (600 miles or 200 Leagues across).

    Hexes can also be used for area measurements, with 25 Small hexes covering the area of a Medium Hex, and 25 Medium Hexes covering the area of a Large Hex (250K acres, 6,250K acres, and 156,250K acres, respectively).

    Going smaller, I use 1 mile for a Tiny Hex and then switch over to square grids for indoor work.

    I hope this additional information is of use to people.

  2. Phystus's Avatar
    Thanks for your comment, dulux-oz. It just goes to show that you can pick whatever scales seem best to you. If I recall correctly, Judge's Guild used 5 mile hexes for their smallest scale, but I don't remember what they used for more detailed maps.

    It's a good idea to do as you have done and make the size increments consistent. It makes life a lot easier when you're trying to draw a larger-scale map from an existing smaller-scale map. I have to do that fairly often as the players start exploring an area that I haven't detailed before.
  3. LordEntrails's Avatar
    dulux taught me something new today, a league is 3 miles

    I haven't mapped in hexes in a long time. Mainly because when I map a region I'm usually mapping something that has a (mostly) known size, like a specific kingdom that I have envisioned. And then I'm very imprecise when it comes to travel and I always just estimate it using a scale bar (or a polygon length).
  4. Phystus's Avatar
    Yep, it's true! Unfortunately when I created my original campaign maps (1987) I was working from a reference that said it was 10 miles... So that's how I picked the 10-mile size originally.

    I guess there's something to be said for journeys taking as much or little time as the plot demands. In some ways precise maps aren't very true to a medieval setting - if you check out real maps from the era it's a wonder anyone got anywhere they intended!
FG Spreadshirt Swag

Log in

Log in