The Art of World-building author and blogger Randy Ellefson was so kind to write the following guest article for the rpgmaps blog. Enjoy!

Intro

When drawing maps of continents, being realistic is a good idea even when inventing for a fantasy or SF landscape. We’re not freed from plausibility unless we’re purposely throwing out the laws of physics and nature. Most of us are probably creating reasonably Earth-like terrain, but even if not, there are natural forces at work on most planets.

The following tips can not only prevent mistakes but give world builders ideas. Sometimes we’re not sure where to put a forest or desert, or why. Maybe we’re not sure where to even begin. The answer is mountain ranges and a decision on which hemisphere our continent is on. This will determine prevailing winds and, as a result, vegetation. If you don’t understand why, read on.

Mountains and Rain Shadows

Mountains cause moisture-carrying winds to rise. The clouds dump all the rain on one side of the mountain range, causing plants and trees. On the mountain range’s other side, there’s no water left to fall. This causes a “rain shadow,” an area that receives little to no rainfall. Deserts are the usual result.

The below image of the western coast of the United States shows the sudden onset of desert on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, which are also causing the forests to their west. Not only is this not peculiar, but it’s a common and expected result that plays out across the Earth. Not knowing this, we might try to justify such a thing by saying a supernatural or technological event caused it when nature will do it.

Rain Shadow

A rain shadow can cover a huge area, such as the Great Plains of the United States. This isn’t a desert, but grasslands, but the same effect is responsible. The Rocky Mountains have taken much of the moisture out of the air, just not all of it. Some moisture is also coming up from the Gulf of Mexico to the south, so there’s enough rain to cause grass, just not lush vegetation. Generally, desert-like conditions occur closest to the mountains. As we progress farther from them, desert may give way to grasslands and finally forests.

How do we know which side has the desert or forest? We need to know about prevailing winds to answer that.

Prevailing Winds

On a world that is spinning on its axis, like Earth, there will be winds. Which direction these winds flow depends on latitude (distance from the equator) and which way the planet is rotating. Earth rotates counterclockwise and in this article we’ll assume your world does, too; if not, then reverse every mention of direction made below.

On Earth, the rotation causes winds from the equator (0°) to the tropics (up to 40°) to travel east; on the map below, yellow and brown arrows indicate this. In the temperate zones (40°—66°), winds travel west, as indicated by the blue arrows on the map. In the polar zones, winds are again eastward but are light. On the first map above, this explains why the forest is on the westward side of the mountains: the wind is westerly.

No Deserts near the Equator

The world’s deserts aren’t within 30° of the equator due to an atmospheric phenomenon called Hadley cells (there is one in each hemisphere). This weather pattern means most deserts, especially the large ones like the Sahara, start around 30°.

It also means there’s heavy precipitation from 0°—30° and this is too much rain for deserts to form. There’s one exception to this, at least on Earth: Somalia is located at the equator and is mostly arid. The reason? The elevation is between 5-15,000 feet. This changes what would be a tropical climate into a temperate one, and that’s exactly where rain shadows cause deserts. In this case, the Himalayan Mountains are the likely culprit despite how far away they are.

Putting it Together

How can we use this information? We can follow these steps when planning and creating a continent map:
1. Determine which hemisphere our continent is in, and how far from the equator (or even whether it spans it)
2. Decide which parts of the land mass are in each latitude/climate zone, noting the prevailing wind direction:
a. Between 0°—40°, winds are easterly
b. Between 40°—66°, winds are westerly
3. Add mountain ranges where desired
4. Plan where your deserts and forests are:
a. Between 0°—30°, no deserts except in highlands
b. Between 30°—40° forests to the east of mountains, deserts to the west
c. Between 40°—66°, forests to the west of mountains, deserts to the east
Remember that a desert may give way to grasslands and then forests, farther from the mountains that cause a rain shadow. This can give us a line, from left-to-right (or right-to-left) of forest, mountains, desert, grassland, forest. This depends on mountains running north-to-south, as this is perpendicular to the wind direction and therefore blocks the winds. An east-to-west range may cause this but on a smaller scale.

Also, note that winds are westerly or easterly but not perfectly so. They move slightly toward or away from the equator, as the above image illustrates. We don’t need to be super picky about this, however, partly because the vast majority of people have no idea about any of this. We always have the caveat that no one from our imaginary world is going to show up on Earth and announce to our horror (and the delight of our critics) that there is, in fact, no desert or forest at a specific location despite what our map says.

We may not know where 40° latitude is on our maps, but as long as we’re in the ballpark, we’re okay. The goal is to be plausible, not necessarily right.

Hopefully all of this informs and inspires your work, rather than inhibits you. If you’d like to learn more such details, they can be found in my book, Creating Places (The Art of World Building, #2).

A Quiz

Based on the image below (from my world Llurien), see if you can answer these questions (answers at the article’s end):

Question #1: based on where mountains, forests, and deserts are, which direction are the prevailing winds?
Question #2: how far from the equator is this region?
Question #3: which hemisphere is it? (hint: look at the vegetation icons)
Question #4: If you know the answer to the first three questions, what explains the existence of the deserts on the bottom area of the map?

Article Quiz Map

About the Author

Randy Ellefson has written fantasy fiction since his teens and is an avid world builder, having spent three decades creating Llurien, which has its own website at http://www.llurien.com, where dozens of maps, all made with Campaign Cartographer 3+, can be viewed. He has a Bachelor’s of Music in classical guitar but has always been more of a rocker, having released several albums and earned endorsements from music companies. He’s a professional software developer and runs a consulting firm in the Washington D.C. suburbs. He loves spending time with his son and daughter when not writing, making music, or playing golf.

He’s the author of The Art of World Building book series, podcast, and blog. More details can be found at http://www.artofworldbuilding.com. This article is drawn from information found in Creating Places (The Art of World Building, #2).

Quotes about The Art of World Building Series

NY Bestselling author Piers Anthony: “It is exhaustive, well written, and knowledgeable…I, as a successful science fiction and fantasy writer, have generated many worlds, so this material is familiar, but it would have been easier and probably better had I had a reference like this. It is realistic, recognizing that the average writer may not have the patience to work out all the details before getting into the action…”

Ed Greenwood, inventor of The Forgotten Realms: “With CREATING PLACES, Randy Ellefson has penned a sequel to his CREATING LIFE that walks story creators through worldbuilding along an entertaining road that runs everywhere, making sure nothing is missed. Plentiful examples are provided, and a veteran worldbuilder can find just as much fun and comprehensive reminders in these pages as a novice. Some books are nice to have, and a rare few are “must haves.” Like Ellefson’s preceding book, CREATING PLACES is one of that rare breed: an essential reference work. Unlike most references, this one is fun to read. Not to mention a goad and spark for the imagination!”

Quiz Answers

#1: east
#2: not very because easterly winds are nearer the equator
#3: this image is in the northern hemisphere. If we can see the tree icons (they’re a little small here), rainforest icons are used on the southern half, implying the equator is to the south (it’s just off the bottom edge of the map).
#4: since this is near the equator, there can’t be deserts, except that those areas of the map are above 5,000 feet (called the Marulan Highlands)) and are therefore a temperate climate. This lets the mountains on the right cause a rain shadow.

Farm BattleAre you looking for some house-to-house fighting with orcs or undead? Yearning to kick in that door or burn down a barn that hides an evil cult? Look no further, the November issue of the Cartographer’s Annual 2017 has you covered. It contains three highly detailed battle maps that combine building floorplans with outdoor locations.

The maps were produced for Pelgrane Press’ upcoming third installment in the Battle Scenes series and highlight the options you get when combining different map types and styles into a larger whole.

The November issue is now available for CC3+ from the registration page for all subscribers. If you haven’t subscribed to the Annual 2017 yet, you can do so here.

CA130 Te Matuku BayNew Zealand is one of the most avid sailing nations of the world and while traveling along it beautiful coasts I often came across marine charts detailing the waterways. I always loved these maps and decided at some point I’d have to create a CC3+ style that recreated their detail and beauty. This is the month where it happened!

The vector style “Marine Maps” let’s you recreate navigational marine charts within CC3+. With three dozen news symbols and drawing tools and a 5-page mapping guide it’s snap to produce a detailed picture of your real or fictional coastline.

The October issue is now available for CC3+ from the registration page for all subscribers. If you haven’t subscribed to the Annual 2017 yet, you can do so here.

CA129 CityIn the September Annual issue Remy Monsen, editor and author of the CC3+ user manual and the Tome of Ultimate mapping, takes you on a 22-page tutorial on doing extra-large exports from CC3+. Do you need that giant-sized poster for your gaming room? Or want a image for your website where visitors can zoom in to examine the specks of dirt on the houses’ doorsteps? Remy tells you how to do that, utilizing automated scripts to do section exports and image stitching. Take a look at his Snowport city map to see how far you can zoom in there.

The September issue is now available for CC3+ from the registration page for all subscribers. If you haven’t subscribed to the Annual 2017 yet, you can do so here.

GenCon50August has come and with it our biggest convention event of the year: GenCon 2017! Most of us will be in Indianapolis this week, so please bear with us if tech support might be a bit slower to respond than usual.

If you happen to be at GenCon yourself, we’ll be delighted to see you at booth 1317, which we are as usual sharing with Pelgrane Press. We’ll be happy to demo CC3+ and add-ons, answer any questions you might have. We’ll also have some great conventions offers at the show!


CA128 Twin RealmsThe August issue presents another overland style for CC3+. “Parchments Maps” is a re-work and expansion of 2015’s “Classic Fantasy” style, inspired by Gary Warburton’s map work with that style for his world of Aethir.

You can see Gary’s Kingdom of Icara map over on the ProFantasy forum. In addition to being a complete style on its own, the Parchment Maps style can also be used together with Classic Fantasy for a greatly expanded range of symbols.

The issue is now available for CC3+ from the registration page for all subscribers. If you haven’t subscribed to the Annual 2017 yet, you can do so here.

Narsaria in Mercator styleSummer is in full swing in this hemisphere, GenCon is approaching and we have some news for our users!

News

  • All the Cartographer’s Annuals, all the way back to January 2007, are now updated and available for Campaign Cartographer 3+. Also, CC3+ has been brought up to version 3.77 with Update 12.
  • An Annual Sampler is available for download, with 9 free issues of the Cartographer’s Annuals from 2007 to 2015.
  • The Cartographer’s Annuals for May, June and July and available for download for subscribers.

Resources

World of DyraAnnuals for CC3+

They have been out for a while now, but let us restate that all Cartographer’s Annuals are now available for CC3+. We’ve updated them to use all the new shiny tools and effects you’ve become accustomed too, all the way back ti the very first Mercator Historical style.

Thanks to the hard work of Jeff Salus, if you have previously purchased one of them, you can now freely the CC3+ setups from your registration page. Be sure you use the “Setup for CC3+” to install them properly with the current version of Campaign Cartographer.

If you don’t own them yet, purchasing them from the web store will give you both the CC3 and CC3+ versions. Highlights of the first four Annuals include the John Speed City style, the overland style recreating the look of Pete Fenlon’s Middle-earth maps, Pär Lindström’s very first style “Fantasy Worlds“, and Joachim de Ravenbel’s amazing “Castle Walls” toolset.

Bets of all, you can download a set of free Annual samples for CC3+ and try them out. 9 issues, one from each year until 2015 are available in the Annual Sampler.

Next up in our series of updates for CC3+ will be Dioramas. Look for it next month!

Pete Fenlon StyleCC3+ Update 12

To support the current and upcoming updates for CC3+ we have also released a new update for CC3+: Update 12 (version 3.77). Here is the change log from the Readme file for Update 12:

CC3+ Version 3.77
=================
– improved bitmap export, allowing much higher image sizes
– updated Escarpment command (ESC)
– updates for Dioramas tools
– improved color display in Browse info files
– improved display with higher Windows dpi settings
– fixed Fractalize (FRX) command
– fixed # vs @ file path in various templates and sample maps.
– various internal fixes and changes

Campaign Cartographer 3 Plus has been getting a lot of love on YouTube lately, by an old and a new tutorial channel.

Joe Sweeney has started a whole new series of videos, redoing his classic mapping tutorials with CC3+ as the “Master Mapping Class“.

And another CC3+ user, Tony Crawford, has started his own set of introductory videos on CC3+ and its add-ons on the “Crawford Cartography” channel.

Sort Symbols In MapFor a while now Remy has been quietly running a very interesting column over on the Profantasy forum: his “Command of the Week” series. Once a week he takes a look at a CC3+ command, explaining its use and highlighting its special utility. In his own words:

CC3+ contains a huge amount of various commands and features. In this series, I plan to highlight some of these. There won’t be any special progression to this series, and the command will be selected from the entire range, from the simple basic commands, to more advanced features intended for the more advanced users. Feel free to use this topic to discuss the command presented. If you have a command you wish to have showcased, feel free to request it, and it may get presented.
This series is called the command of the week, but it could also explain a feature or effect. The explanations will tend to explain the technical parts of the command, and is intended to highlight the basics (and complexities) of the command, but won’t be a detailed tutorial on how to use it. It is up to you to use it creatively in your maps.

Often I find myself nodding as Remy explains a command I use all the time, at other times I am surprised as he digs up a command I had almost forgotten about. Sometimes they are useful for beginners, at other times you’d need to be a little more advanced user to get the most use out of it. But Remy’s comments are always very interesting and useful, and by now he has accumulated 30 commands of the week.

So if you are interested in finding out more about CC3+’s many useful command and tools, head over to the latest command of the week “Sort Symbols in Map“, which also contains an index of all commands covered so far.

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