Before you start
The first step to mapping is to come up with the function and the overall atmosphere you want to achieve. Is the home a place of business like a shop or an inn? Is it a basic NPC home where the player picks up a quest? Is the occupant rich or poor? Each setting has different considerations.
The next step is to gather your materials. Pick out what colors you will be working with, get your tileset ready and line up the NPCs that will be living and/or working there.
Shape and Layout
Inner mapping begins with a strong layout. Start by sketching out the same shape your building is on the outside. This small detail creates continuity and makes the transition between inner and outer maps feel natural. Note that you don’t have to work on a 1-to-1 scale. In fact, using the same scale for inner maps and outer buildings can lead to some funky-looking maps. You could end up with massive buildings that look awkward against trees and other outer decoration, while the inner maps will feel cozy or cramped. It is enough to keep the same general shape and proportions.
The next step is to create sections or rooms. There’s two reasons why we want to do this. First, it is much more difficult to create a lot of detail in a wide, open space. The furniture ends up looking small and this makes the space look even more empty. Or the mapper might try to overcompensate and adds too much clutter. The second reason is that separate rooms are functional and they help us keep organized. Even people who live in studio apartments will sometimes divide their room with curtains, so to keep a sense of privacy or divide sleeping space from entertaining or cooking space.
Now it’s time to fill the map with furniture. Start with the basic necessities: a bed, a sink, table or bookshelves. These are staples in every home and it’s believable that most homes will have them. You don’t have to use a lot of variety for the basic furniture, but keep in mind that too much repetition will be noticed by the player. Mix and match pieces and introduce variation in color to make even the basics look interesting.
One big important thing to remember at this point is the sides and the bottom of the screen. When all pieces are on the north wall, it creates an imbalance with the rest of the map, and it may also force you to want to add unnecessary furniture or detail to get the right effect.
Lastly, add the details. This part can be a very fun process, because you can use details to express personality or history for your NPCs – something you may not be able to do otherwise. Surround your writer with books, your romantic with candles and roses or your cat lady with a dozen cats on various surfaces.
How do you achieve this level of detail? You can use some of the tilesets that our community members have provided (just check out Resource Showcase section). Or you can create your own by layering pieces in an art program.
Here is the set used in my screenshot. Use it as a launching point: