Does anyone know of good city specific (although I would be interested in others as well) plug-ins for fantasy RPG map making using GIMP?

Edit: I am more looking at macro-scale (so whole city and a little of country side) rather than a tactical map. For tactical maps, of course, using vector graphic is better.

Edit2: I should have asked about brushes. Deviant art has a plethora of good ones that are very useful for making maps.


3 Answers 3


You don't exactly need plugins for this sort of thing: the most important skill for using raster software like the GIMP for map-making is learning how to use the existing functionality to get the effects you're interested in. However, depending on what you're going for, there are plugins that can help.

The hardest part of making a fantasy city map is laying down the streets—everything else (city walls, surrounding terrain, water, building fill, text, etc.) is the application of more basic cartography techniques. If you've got a small city or are drawing only a high-level view of it you can get away with hand-drawn streets, but for more complex streets like in this city map that would be mind-meltingly tedious.

If you're on Windows using the GIMP, there is a Voronoi diagram plugin binary that can randomly generate street-like lines (as seen here) suitable for a city map, but it's an old plugin that isn't maintained anymore. I haven't been able to find any others, though.

Another method is to use something other than a plugin to generate a network of lines: this tutorial uses a city-generating program to create a street network image, which is then imported as an image and traced by hand. Another sources of "street-like images" you can trace is stock photography of broken glass.

For a less street-dense map, working on improving your map-centric image manipulation skills has more payoff for the time invested than experimenting with plugins to do the job. This tutorial on creating fantasy city maps at the Cartographers' Guild is an excellent place to start even if it is written with Photoshop in mind.

Finally, the unquestionably-best way to learn how to create fantasy city maps in GIMP (if you haven't already guessed from the festival of links) is to sign up at the Cartographers' Guild forum so you can read through the reams of material there. Try a search for "city streets" for pages of discussion and pro-looking maps to get an idea of what's out there.


I've answered under the assumption that you want to make small-scale tactical or local maps - on the scale of city streets instead of the whole city and surrounding countryside.

GIMP strikes me as the wrong tool for the job. In my opinion, and based on the local-map assumption, you need a vector graphics program.

Dig out a copy of OpenOffice.org Draw or another vector drawing program (e.g. Illustrator, which sadly you won't be able to just dig out) and you'll get an idea of what I mean. Vector drawing programs don't work in terms of pixels; they work in terms of lines and shapes. This means that you can, for example, tell the program that you want to snap everything that you draw to a grid, and then proceed to draw all of your map elements with reference to that grid. This is obviously a direct fit for square-grid games, but it would work for hex-grid games as well, if you have the patience to pick a system for mapping the hex grid onto the square grid.

The resulting maps will be somewhat ugly unless you take time to import pixel-based images or vector art and incorporate them as part of your scenery, but I think the end results will be much easier to use in-game.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Inkscape is also a good open source alternative for vector graphics. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cthos
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 0:57
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Seconded. I am a big fan of GIMP -- big enough of one to know that this sounds like a job for Inkscape. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dr Rotwang
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 2:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Should have been more precise with the question. Sorry for the confusion. Main question edited. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 8:05

GIMP or not to GIMP...

GIMP is, for what it does, highly powerful, and very awkward to learn.

There are stamps for GIMP that were designed for doing RPG mapping at an "old school D&D style map" level, both color and grayscale...


And a tutorial for you...


Vector is better...

For macro-level mapping, you're better off using a vector graphics editor of some kind. The best one I've found for free is Inkscape, but OpenOffice's draw module should work, too. Another option, also free, is sketchup.

Vector is a better option because you can scale it far more easily, and with no nasty rasterizations.

3 functional practices make it very practical to map in any decent editor:

  • layers
  • Groups
  • distribution of duplicates

Very few programs do distribution automatically other than by grid, and while there are a few plug ins to do it... it's best to use a program designed for the job.

Layers are essential for organizing data. If you have all your polity data in one layer, roads in another, and terrain in a third, you've a good start..., but you can easily add a 4th for GM notes...

Groups allow you to create reusable elements easily.

The best for city mapping I have found isn't free... it'll run ya $60... CC3 and City Designer 3. Has a wide variety of mapping symbols, including randomized strings of buildings, and is a full fledged 2D CAD program. It's not as bad to learn as CC2 was; it's still non-trivial, though. Lots of map symbol sets, runs well, does run in WINE fairly well for non-Windows Users.

  • \$\begingroup\$ For vector-based layer-aware image editors, there's also xfig, but I would not consider that something to learn, only something taht can be shoe-horned into teh role, if you already happen to know it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vatine
    Commented Jul 20, 2011 at 12:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Vatine: xfig? I'd rather work with metapost if we were to go down the hard core route ;> \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 21, 2011 at 7:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sardathrion: xfig si pretty useful (and quick to use, for SOME things) if you're familiar with it. With somewhere around 10 years of occasional use, it tends to be the first tool I reach for, if I am doing line drawings. But, no, definitely not something I'd recommend learning, these days. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vatine
    Commented Jul 21, 2011 at 9:52

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