This is part 2 of the “Making New House Symbols in CC3+” tutorial by Sue Daniel. Read part 1 here.

Download the full tutorial in pdf format here.

Drawing the map file

Show all the sheets, set the snap grid to 10’ grid 2 snap, and copy the whole house to one side, leaving about 30 feet between the original and its duplicate. Zoom in on the duplicate, edit the label to show that it is the map file, hide all the sheets except the two ***Separation shadow sheets and delete the shadows from the map file drawing. Show all the sheets again and delete the chimney pots.

Using the change properties button move the entire map file drawing to the MAP FILE OBJECTS layer, and make the MAP FILE OBJECTS layer the active layer. Right click the hourglass button on the left and choose Move to Sheet, and move all the parts of the house as follows:

IMAGE ROOF – level 1 -> MAP ROOF – level 1
IMAGE RIDGE – level 1 -> MAP RIDGE – level 1
IMAGE ROOF – level 2 -> MAP ROOF – level 2
IMAGE RIDGE – level 2 -> MAP RIDGE – level 2
IMAGE ROOF – level 2 -> MAP ROOF – level 2
IMAGE RIDGE – level 2 -> MAP RIDGE – level 2
CHIMNEY -> MAP CHIMNEY BLANK

You should now have something that looks like this, with a white line defining each section of roof.

Using the change properties tool, change the fill of all the roof ridges and the chimney stacks to solid white.

Back when we aligned the fills and amended the automatic shading for the image file drawing, that amendment only worked for the textures. As soon as you change the properties of these aligned fill polygons to a solid colour the shaded polygons will show again and affect the blue and red values of the map file drawing, so we need to undo the alignment on all the parts of the roof that are aligned.

To do this make each of the 3 ***MAP ROOF sheets active in turn, and explode all the roof parts that are aligned on the active sheet (not the ridges or chimneys) so that the texture falls back to its default state. It is important to be on the right sheet for each roof part or the explosion may have unexpected results.

Open the colour palette and look at the top row of map file colours – the one with four colours in it.

The first map shade (178) is correctly set up for a north facing roof of standard pitch. Select it, and change the properties of the north facing rooftops to solid colour and shade 178. The second map shade (179) is set up for an east facing roof. Change the properties of all the east facing roof parts to this shade. This is how mine looks at this half way stage.

The third and fourth map shades are for the south and west facing roof parts respectively. So when you have finished changing the properties you should have a map file drawing that looks something like this.

And that’s all there is to it. The map file drawing is now complete.

Rendering the files

Create a new folder in the C:\ProgramData\Profantasy\CC3Plus\Symbols\User folder to be the home of your new house symbol. Mine is simply called “My Houses”.

Ensure that you have the 10’ grid 10 snap grid active and set to Snap, then use Save As… from the File menu, and pick Rectangular section PNG as the file type. Click the Options button in the Save As dialog and set the Width and Height dimensions to the dimensions you calculated for the render area rectangle, and which you should be able to read off the map. The filename you want is above the drawing.

Turn OFF the Antialias option.

Click ok and ok again, and when prompted for the first corner of the rectangle by the command line click on the bottom left corner of the rectangle around the map drawing, and then on the top right corner when prompted again for the second corner.

When this is done pan back across the map and do exactly the same thing for the image file drawing.

Making the background of both files transparent

Open the GIMP and go to File/Open and navigate to the My Houses folder where you saved your rendered images from CC3.

Open the image file.

Click the magic wand tool in the toolbox on the left hand side and make sure the Tool Options in the panel below the toolbox are set up so that the Mode is set to add to the selection, none of the boxes are checked, the Threshold is set to 130, and the Select by is set to Composite.

Then zoom in really close to anywhere on the left hand edge of the image by pressing CTRL and scrolling the middle mouse button, and click on the white area away from the house.

You should be able to see a black line down the edge of the image if you have zoomed in close enough. You need to click this with the wand, and also the white line right down the extreme edge until all the area that is not part of the house is selected in an area of ‘crawling ants’.

Go to the little thumbnail of the file on the right hand panel and right click it.

Select Add Alpha Channel from the drop down list, hover the mouse over the image in the main window again and press DELETE on your keyboard. This should entirely clear the background from the image file and leave a chequered pattern in view.

Don’t worry about the fact that the area is still selected. Go to the File menu, find where it says “Overwrite House 01.PNG” and click it.

Close the open file without saving it. You have already overwritten it with the new transparent version of the image file.

Select the wand tool and lower the Threshold setting to 50, then repeat this entire process for the map file, remembering to click the wand tool in all the islands of white in the middle of the map image. Make sure that all the white parts are gone.

Importing the new symbol

Go back to CC3+ and click the little button on the left under the Options button on the catalogue browser. There may already be symbols in there, but just ignore these. I have purged my own map of unused symbols just to make things a bit easier to see.

Open the Symbol Manager (menu item).

Click the Import PNGs button.

In the second dialog Browse to the My Houses folder in the Source folder box and double click on either of the files in the folder. The Highest Resolution should be set to 40 pixels per drawing unit, which is the default resolution for a city map. Check the Create other resolutions option and set the Symbol origin to the bottom right corner. Then click OK and wait for CC3+ to do its thing.

You will receive a short message letting you know that 1 new symbol was imported. Now check the view in the catalogue browser and scroll down to see if you can find your house waiting to be pasted.

And there it is.

Your new symbol has no specific settings, so you will have to manually choose the SYMBOLS sheet before pasting it to get the shadow around it.

You can carry on drawing and adding new house symbols in the same file until you have all that you want.

To make proper use of your new symbols you will need to make a catalogue of them. How to do this, and how to add the full functionality of a regular CD3 house symbol is covered in the Tome of Ultimate Mapping, and in part by a range of tutorials available from the sticky resources thread at the top of the Profantasy forum.

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial, and that you get at least one new house symbol out of it. If you have any problems creating your new house symbols please drop by the Profantasy Forum and let us know. Have fun 🙂

About the author: Sue Daniel is active as a cartographer and artist both on the ProFantasy community forum and the Cartographer’s Guild. There, she has won 1 Lite Challenge and 3 Main Challenges, and just recently one of the annual Atlas Awards for most creative map in 2017. She has produced many beautiful art assets for CC3+ (such as the “Sue’s Parchments” Annual issue) and mapping in general that are free to use for anyone.

Software required:
Campaign Cartographer 3 Plus (CC3+) with the City Designer 3 (CD3) add-on
A bitmap editor (The GIMP v 2.10 is used in this tutorial, but any editor will suffice)

You can download a zip folder of the three files that comprise the template for this tutorial called
“House Builder (basic)” used in this tutorial from here.

Download part 1 of “Making New Houses in CC3+” in pdf-format.

How CD3 house symbols work

Whenever we paste a house symbol into a map what we are actually pasting is a very flat image that probably looks a lot like this one.

CD3 symbols do not have roof shading. There are no ‘dark sides’ or ‘light sides’ in these flat-packed roof images, yet they appear on the map fully shaded the instant the symbol is pasted in the CC3 environment. So how is this happening?

CC3+ obtains information about the pitch and facing direction for each part of the roof by reading the colour coded message in a second file stored in the same location as the image, but which is never shown in the CC3+ environment. This second file has the same name as the image file, but with a “_map” suffix.

We need to make both types of file for our new house symbol, so to distinguish between them I will call them the image file and the map file respectively.

And here (below) is the symbol House 01 arranged in CC3 to show how the shading changes with the rotation of the building – all calculated by CC3 using the information contained in the map file, and adjusted to take account of the global sun setting and the rotation of the symbol.

Continue reading »

Part III: The Warlock’s Castle and the Crater of Ghorm

Before I come to the next two symbols I need to explain a bit about the background story of RdW, especially about why its name is ‘Call of the Warlock’:

In the beginning of the world of Tanaris the eight gods didn’t interfere into the things of the humans, elves etc., but one day the god Thongmor started playing around in the world and the other gods had to react. As they didn’t want to counter Thongmor’s action personally, they created the Warlock. This is a person with godlike abilities, immortal and invulnerable, his task was to fight against Thongmor. Over the years, with changing Warlocks and with the beginning of the war of the gods, the initial task of the Warlock was forgotten and now he is an independent entity.

But as the gods didn’t want to create another god, they gave him one ‘weakness’. They created the Swordmasters, a group of people with outstanding abilities in swordfighting, who always know where the Warlock is, they always hear the ‘call of the Warlock’. If one of them fights the Warlock and defeats him in a duel (this is the only situation where a warlock can die), the winning Swordmaster will become the next Warlock.

The Swordmaster is a Player Class, which means a player can become Warlock. Unfortunately the requirements for playing a Swordmaster are so hard (while creating a character you have to role dice epic…), no one in my group ever played one.

The home of the Warlock is the castle ‘Sign of the times’, which is settled on a mountain range overarching the ‘black lake of buried hopes’ (in the night you can hear the screams of the dead souls of all the Swordmasters who lost their fight against the Warlock). The feature with this castle, mountains and lakes is, that the warlock can teleport this ensemble anywhere he likes. When the map is done, I will see where exactly I will place it:
Continue reading »

We’re continuing Jay Johnson’s City Mapping article with the third and final part.

Adding Details

City with trees and paths in courtyardsLittle details add a great deal to a map. Look at these two images. The first is with trees and pathways in the courtyards. The second is without them. How much difference do these details make in your opinion? In my opinion, they make a big difference.

Shadows

Another detail you can work on is your shadows. I adjusted the shadow settings on my buildings so they intrude more into the streets. The places where the streets are covered in shadow creates a sense of danger and mystery, don’t you think.

The City’s History

City without trees and paths in courtyardsThink about your city’s history and include details that suggest a city that has evolved. Your city should have a nucleus (the original settlement) from which it expanded. Consider how this expansion took place and the different phases through which it occurred. Think about how your city has grown. If there were old walls, roads that ran beside them most likely now mark where they once were. Maybe sections of these walls still stand or roads pass beneath old gates that are located far from what is now the city’s perimeter. What other changes may have occurred as your city grew?

Some More Advanced Techniques

Let’s take a minute to talk about some more advanced techniques I have used. Some that require using other programs in conjunction with CC3+ and its add-ons. Continue reading »

Part II: Symbols for special places

“Over the day-smitten towers and walls of Shudm (uglier by day, all its black filth and spiritual garbage too openly displayed), the air began to sing and to ripple, and then grow oppressively silent and motionless. And then the air hardened, like cooling lava. And like lava, the air darkened, until it let in the fierce glare of the sun, but nothing else. Nothing – no lesser light, no noise, no breath of wind or vapor, neither dust nor rain – no wisp of anything. Even the vagrant corpse-eater birds could no longer get in, or out. Like a tomb. Above and also beneath. Inside – not simply a dome but an egg of leaden crystal, there was Shudm now, and the afternoon went by, and sunset, which was true dawn to the ghouls, and night, and midnight. And in the first overcast minutes of the new morning, there was not one sensible thing in the city that did not know it had been trapped.”
Tanith Lee, Delirium’s Mistress

And so, the last days of the ghouls of Shudm began – trapped by this spell of Sovaz, the daughter of Ashrarn, Lord of the Night. In Tanith Lee’s novel these ghouls were an amalgam of ghouls and classical vampires, dependent on eating flesh and drinking blood but not harmed by sunlight. As they became trapped, they had only each other left as food and after the last had eaten himself, their fate was sealed. Sovaz had chosen her very special way of revenge for what they did to her before… Maybe it was inspired by this story of Tanith Lee, that in one of the sourcebooks of RdW the players started their adventure, waking up trapped under an invisible force dome in the house of a mighty vampire.

This chapter of my map-making article will be about making symbols for special places of the campaign. For those who read the WIP thread in the forum, this chapter may contain redundancies, but nevertheless for my understanding of fantasy maps it is maybe the most important chapter.
I like it a lot when a map for an RPG campaign contains parts of the narrative of the world. That means that I like to build dedicated symbols, or scenarios on the map which tell stories, giving more information than just the landscape.

In this chapter I show several symbols I’ve made for the map, along with the explanation of how I made the symbol with the background as written in the original RdW sourcebooks.

Let’s start with the symbol for the magic force dome I mentioned above, protecting a powerful vampire who is looking for fresh blood and trapped a group of players in his home:

Continue reading »

We continue Jay Johnson’t city mapping article with part 2. Go here for part 1.

CM2-1Building Construction Techniques

I think we are at the point where I should talk about some of my building construction methods. Here are some techniques for making complex structures utilizing the HBT.

Splicing

The first building we will construct is what I will call the Building with Enclosed Courtyard. The technique I used for this can be used to construct all kinds of variations and is also what I used to construct the city walls around Melekhir. We will refer to this technique as splicing.

First choose the building style you want in the HBT. Ensure the House shape is set to option nine which is the trapezoid shape and the Roof type to option one which is gable.

Continue reading »

Part I: Foundations of the map

‘Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there as an age undreamed of. And unto this, Conan, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!’
Robert E. Howard, “Conan the Barbarian”

It was back in the 90’s: We were young, we played RPGs and we listened all evening to one album – the Soundtrack of ‘Conan, the Barbarian’. We played Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye) and Ruf des Warlock (Call of the Warlock – RdW).

RdW was released in 1991 and is heavily influenced by the novels of Tanith Lee, especially by the Tales of the Flat Earth series. You can breathe the spirit of the 80’s and their special way of high fantasy, which was a ‘fantastic’ fantasy and not a ‘realistic’ fantasy, like a lot of contemporary fantasy literature tends to be, with a focus on character development instead of creating fantastic places and persons.
While Das Schwarze Auge became the big German rpg success, RdW is a niche game. As far as I know there are only a few people left playing RdW and sooner or later it will probably be forgotten. Maybe with my maps I play the role of a bard, singing the tales of a lost world. If it is so, I do my best that this song will be dignified. For this sake it is on me to be the chronicler and so I want to invite you to follow me and to let me tell you of the days of high adventure.

The map I make is a regional map of the northwestern part of the world of Tanaris, the world of RdW. When I make a new map, I usually start in the Jon Roberts Overland style, as it is my favorite one. But from the start I use the immense freedom CC3+ gives its users.

For some time I wanted to try the mountains by TJ Vandel (Annual issues 81, 84, 106, 107, 119 & 120), so I added these catalogs to the mountain symbols button to make the mapping process easier.
The next step is to choose a background. I delete the default frame and choose a parchment background. My resulting starting point is this:
WIP1

It is always a great moment to see the blank parchment in front of me: The world is empty, the story unwritten, and it is on me to create. So let’s go! Continue reading »

Before we get started with our conversation about mapping cities with Campaign Cartographer 3 Plus (CC3+), I should probably introduce myself. My name is Jay Johnson and I go by Texas Jake on both the ProFantasy Forum and the Cartographers Guild Forum. I have always loved maps and history and I am a bit of a perfectionist by nature. You can see examples of my maps on the ProFantasy Forum. My map of the border outpost of Tarkas was one of the ProFantasy Blog’s Maps of the Month for October 2018. You can also view the current map I am working on of the City of Melekhir. It is a map of a city that covers over one square mile of land area (that’s massive, what was I thinking when I started such a ginormous project!).

When I purchased CC3+ (to make a map for a series of books I am writing) and started down the road of mapping, I had no idea all I would discover—about the use of CC3+, about medieval cities and about the art of mapmaking. CC3+ opened up a whole new world of mapmaking to me. I started by doing some overland mapping (and was astonished by the quality of maps I could produce while still learning the basics of the program), but it wasn’t long before I ventured into the realm of city mapping. Mapping cities can be challenging, fun, sometimes frustrating, but in the end quite rewarding. I would like to take this opportunity to share some of what I have learned along the way.

First, let me define what kind of cities we are talking about. The type of cities we will be discussing are fantasy cities based on those from medieval Europe. The kind that can be found in many of the fantasy stories we have read or viewed. The purpose of our conversation is to learn not only the use of CC3+ to make maps of cities, but also to learn about the art of making city maps.

It could be argued that the art of mapmaking is more important to making good maps than the tools you use to accomplish it. I believe there is some truth to this argument. I would go on to say that a good mapmaker can make a good map whether he or she uses pen and paper, Photoshop, or CC3+. The more we understand about making a readable and believable map, the better map we will make regardless of the tools or medium we choose. Our objective is to make a map that effectively communicates to the viewer the information we desire to convey. If we fail to do this, everything else we do is pointless. We also want to make a believable map. To do this, we need to avoid pitfalls like using magic as an excuse to justify something that would be implausible in the real world. If we do deviate from the norm, there should be a good reason for doing so. We can make exceptions to reality, but they should be made for a reason, not as an excuse. Understand that the more exceptions we make, the less believable our map becomes.

As we make this journey together, I am going to assume a few things, one of them is that you have the City Designer 3 (CD3) add-on. We will be making use of tools and elements from CD3 and since I bought the Top Three bundle when I got CC3+ (which includes CD3 and Dungeon Designer 3), I am less conscious of what tool came with which product.

Let’s Get Started

Where to start? Now that is the question. Let’s start by determining what kind of city we want to map. You must think about the size of the city you plan to map and determine the size canvas you will need to map it on. If you are just starting on your journey as a mapmaker, this can be a hard question to answer accurately. I know that I have had to restart maps several times because I answered this question incorrectly. The problem of fantasy mapping is that we define what we are mapping and we create the data. If our conception of what we want is not entirely clear, we open the door for inaccurate conclusions to enter. So, take a little time and think about how big your city is going to be and then you may want to allow yourself just a bit more space than that. It is good to allow extra space so that the shape of your city is defined by design and not by the constraints of your canvas. How many times do fantasy cities end up square or rectangular because that is the boundaries of the canvas. Our cities should be defined by their terrain, not by our canvas. Do your research. Know as much as you reasonably can about your city before you start to draw it out. Understand, of course, you will learn more as you put it down on (digital) paper. Sometimes the discovery may amaze and surprise you.

A resource that may help you is this site which has many historic city maps.

If you are new to CC3+, get to know the software. You need to gain a bit of skill with your tools. One of the first things I did when I was new to CC3+ was watch the excellent videos by Joe Sweeney to get a handle on the software. You can find his videos here. After watching some of his videos I would do some mapping with CC3+. When I had a question or encountered a problem I would go back for more or break out the manual. One of the best ways to learn is by doing (at least for me it is). Make a few practice maps to develop some familiarity with the product. I have heard complaints that CC3+ is hard to learn. There is a bit of a learning curve to it, but there is with any product. I promise you if you put in the effort to learn to use the software you will be rewarded—and you will get past the steep end of the learning curve faster than you may think if you are diligent.

Another tremendous resource is the Tome of Ultimate Mapping by Remy Monsen. It is available from ProFantasy and is a wealth of knowledge. It also includes an excellent tutorial on mapping cities to help you learn the basics.

Your city should have a reason for being. What resources are available: minerals, lumber, stone, etc.? There must be sources of food and water (unless, of course, your inhabitants are stone statues that do not eat or drink, but I think they are probably not). What about trade routes? Think about these things and their locations in relation to your city and what impact they have on it.

After you have determined the size of your city and have achieved some degree of proficiency in the use of CC3+, you need to determine what CC3+ style you want to use for your city. Understand you can
borrow elements from other styles to supplement your choice. You can even create your own style if you care to. If you are unfamiliar with CC3+ city styles I would recommend making a small sample map with the styles you are considering to see which one will best suit your needs.

Time to Make a Map

MelekhirOkay, now let’s get into my process for mapping cities (finally, you say). The first thing I do is define the terrain. If you’re mapping a city that is on an overland map, you can look to that map for information. Locate the hills, the mountains, and very importantly, the rivers. After you define the terrain, determine the location of the city on the terrain.

The next thing I do is lay out the major roads. The roads that connect the cities to the rest of the world and resources and the roads that are the major arteries inside your city. This will give you a skeleton, so to speak, to work off of and flesh out. At this stage I determine where the main marketplace will be. If there is a castle or palace, this would be a good time to locate it. It will influence your roads and was probably there before, or near to the beginning of, the city. During this stage it is also good to consider what important structures, locations and features you want to include in your city—maybe an important temple, or a large arena where chariots race or gladiators fight. Now would be a good time to place them on the map. That way you make sure there is a place for them, and major sites like these will have a great influence on your road network.

When you place buildings, you can put roads down first then add the buildings or you can add the buildings then place the roads. I have done it both ways and either will work. It is a matter of preference and, at different points in your mapping, one way may prove better for you than the other.

Talking about buildings. If you look at historic maps and at old sections of cities that have survived from the medieval period, buildings tend to be built right up against each other. They are also right on the street, not set back as is common in the residential neighborhoods many of us are familiar with. This will be the preferred situation in our map. Because of this, the random street tool (which is great for laying down houses fast) will not be our preferred method of adding buildings. I also don’t use the premade buildings very often in my maps. I prefer to make my own using the House Builder Tool (which we will henceforth refer to as the HBT). This allows us to have much greater flexibility concerning the design of the buildings we are placing on our map.

When I was early in the process of mapping out Melekhir, I struggled to come up with convincing-looking buildings and building clusters. After several attempts (which I quickly deleted) I stumbled on an ingenious idea (okay, maybe ingenious is a bit much). I decided to bring up the city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Google Earth and copy some buildings. Why Rothenburg? Because I had visited the city a few times when I was living in Germany and I knew it was an authentic walled city that had maintained its medieval charm. I replicated a few buildings—they weren’t exact copies—but I liked the results. I copied a block of buildings and I really liked the results. Hey, this felt authentic (of course it felt authentic because it was authentic). I copied several more sections of the old city. And you know what? After this exercise in replication, I was able to create buildings and clusters of my own that felt authentic. I had acquired a feel for it.

Rothenburg
Let’s take a step back. Before I made this amazing discovery (okay, maybe amazing is a bit much also), I had used Google Earth to take measurements of streets and buildings and blocks of several historic cities. I recorded my findings and developed some standards to guide me in my mapping.

Did you know Google Earth has a nifty measure tool that will measure distance in meters (and also feet for us backwards Americans).

My measurements told me that main streets were usually between 16-18 meters (52-59 feet) wide, building face to building face. So, to keep it simple, I set my main streets at a width of fifty feet. Side streets were 6-8 meters (20-26 feet) wide, so I set my side streets at 20 or 25 feet wide. Alleys were as narrow as 4 meters (13 feet) so alleys would be approximately 12 feet wide. I also used my building measurements as a guide to how big buildings should be. Based on the measurement of several marketplaces I determined my main marketplace would be approximately 100 feet by 300 feet.

Grids

One of the first things I do when setting up a map in CC3+ is create several square grids on their own sheets, but on a common layer. This way I can turn them on and off individually. For a city map, I create the following grids: 5 feet, 25 feet, 100 feet, 250 feet, and 1000 feet (if the map is very large like Melekhir). I set the transparency of these grids to 50% or less so I can see through them and make sure they are contrasting colors (so I can distinguish between them). If you make sure they are all on the same layer you can turn on and off whatever combination is active via layers. These grids prove very valuable in keeping everything scaled properly. That said, I often map with them off once I get a feel for scale. If you do this, be sure to zoom out every once in a while. If you are working zoomed-in, things can get out of proportion to the rest of the map. I have stayed zoomed-in for extended periods of mapping only to zoom out and realize I have gotten dreadfully out of scale. That said, don’t be afraid to redo something that is off. If you fix it early it is usually a fairly simple and relatively painless operation (and you will be able to sleep at night knowing it is fixed).

The City Mapping article by Jay Johnson will continue next month.

Download Mapping Cities Part 1 as a pdf.

Jay Johnson is an aspiring author working on an epic fantasy series. He has always loved maps and, like many of us, was introduced to fantasy cartography through the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. His map-making has become an integral part of his writing process — a process he says often seems more like discovery than creation.

Isometric ViewWhat is a map and how can it tell a story? To explore the question, let’s begin by defining our terms. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, cartography is “the science or practice of drawing maps”. So what is it then that we’re creating in this process and how do we know if we’re achieving our goals? Furthermore, how can we tell that our efforts are making the most of the medium we’ve chosen to communicate with our audience? Returning to the Oxford English Dictionary for another clarification of terms might help here. A map, used as a noun, indicates “a diagrammatic representation of an area of land or sea showing physical features, cities, roads, etc.”. In addition, it can also refer to a representation of the position of objects in outer space, or more generally, the arrangement of any collection of information with regard to its distribution over an area or sequence in a progression. In a nutshell, a map is a selective re-presentation of facts as they relate to one another in space or time. When used as a verb, mapping speaks to the act of organizing or defining those relationships with the aim of creating a depiction that can be used for either internal reference or communication with others. With this in mind, the choices that we make in the process of building a map inform not only its technical function and visual flavor but also its ability to serve as a non-linear narrative ripe for expansion.

Forlorn CottageIn my mind, the difference between a simple diagram and a cartographic masterpiece lies in the manner in which the work engages its audience. Some of the best maps I can think of remind me of sandboxes filled with intriguing story seeds. Wherever you look there is enough detail to lose yourself in but there also exists ample room for the imagination to build and expand on what’s given. A great map presents itself as more than simple data. The rabbit holes within a truly engaging map are as varied as its viewers and as numerous as each moment an eye traces a path across its surface. With this in mind, how we choose what is important enough to include and what should be omitted defines the true character of our creation. It’s this judgment and practice that makes all the difference.

Now that we know the basic framework of the activity we’re engaged in, let’s look at some specifics concerning how to move forward. The scope of our interest here is presumably limited to the crafting of fantasy maps, particularly that sort defined by the needs of role-playing game masters looking to visualize sites for exploration, encounter settings, or storytelling. Since we aren’t necessarily worried about maintaining fidelity to a real-world location, then the focus of our overall aim shifts and we are allowed to build the world with more of a free hand. As a result, the initial design and layout steps serve a more essential function since the location is built from the ground up.

FloorplanWith this leeway, the inherent narrative nature of a map becomes that much more apparent. You’re telling the story, or setting the stage for a multitude of stories, by how you develop your picture. That being said, logical issues of physics, geomorphology, and tendencies of habitation are extremely important to consider since an environment that doesn’t make sense sets up roadblocks to storytelling that at their worst can become glaring holes in the plot. Even in the most fantastical world, if your river is running uphill then there better be a mighty good reason for it as well as an accompanying basin for all that water to drain into. Magic and otherworldly influences can drastically affect the underlying rules of the game but the response to those peculiarities needs to be logical. If your world is built on the back of an enormous turtle, then make sure to spend some time thinking about its implications and build the map accordingly. To expand on this, can nuances of your map speak to larger issues outside its boundaries? How can those unique details lead the reader or player to ask questions that spur them on to further adventures? The river that suddenly jumps its banks to cascade into the sky is a perfectly weird device that can set the stage for an excellent beginning to an adventure.

Outside RuinsAll maps present some form of constructed narrative such that in order for them to function as representations of something else, or worlds unto themselves, they are utterly reliant on decisions made by their creator. These choices are an outgrowth of the cartographer’s point of view and are a function of the creative process. In other words, if a patch of ground were simply duplicated to the last detail it would be a copy rather than a description and it’s in the description that we can find our voices as artists and authors. These determinations give identity to a map and define the purpose it serves. Something as simple as the manner in which a hierarchy of information is organized speaks volumes about the interests and drives of the artist. Allowing these choices to inform and reflect the character of your work makes for a richly compelling creation that feels much more alive than one whose features might seem overabundant, meager, or capricious.

Selecting what to reveal and what to omit is as vital to the process of drawing a map as it is to writing a story. Show your viewers what you’d like to tell them and let their imagination play with those details. What you choose to include will provide game masters and players alike the story landmarks they may respond to while the components you omit can potentially indicate a mystery or leave room for later editorial changes and expansion down the road. This organic living nature is a vitally important aspect of any captivating image whether it takes the form of a fog-of-war mechanic or the inclusion of a mysterious cave entrance in a traditional paper map. Leave something to be explored. This is particularly true of regional maps where the words ‘Terra Incognita’ serve like a beacon into the great unknown.

Print TileWhen designing the overall look and feel of your image, also consider how much is too much. The last thing a map should be is confusing, unless that’s a plot device you’re specifically aiming for. There is a balance that needs to be kept in mind in order to avoid the all too common cluttered look that occurs when a map becomes practically illegible due to the overabundance of information. If everything is included without respect to what really needs to be shown, the resulting visual noise can potentially drown out what’s actually important. Leave some room to breathe in the image and vary your object sizes, areas of contrast, visual density etc to avoid monotony. The fundamentals of design are just as important here as they would be in painting a landscape, since in a manner, that’s what we’re doing. Typically it’s a top-down landscape, but it’s still a landscape nonetheless. Luckily for us, we have the good fortune of being able to employ a wealth of tools that the traditional landscape painter might lack access to such as symbols, text, and multifaceted media.

Printed MapFinally, I can’t emphasize enough the fact that any map you create is only a starting point presenting your view of the world being shown. It’s a beginning so make sure to set the stage for the coming adventures embarked upon by your audience. Give it some life and don’t shy away from suggesting potential storylines that might be ripe for development. Visual narratives don’t need to be linear or even complete but they do require thought in their employment. Give the audience little nuggets of gold and they’ll dig into and expand on your creation by mining the depths of their own imagination. It’s not only your tale that’s being told here, especially where role-playing maps are concerned. It’s a partnership, a collaborative adventure embarked upon in the minds of each person huddled around your map.

Mike Schley
“As an illustrator and cartographer I’ve created a large number of pieces for publishers such as Wizards of the Coast, HarperCollins Publishing, and Inkle Studios. Of these, I’m most recognized for my development of environmental artwork and maps for the fantastical worlds of Dungeons & Dragons.”

The LandmassThis is the second part of my series about making an overland map in Campaign Cartographer, you can find the first part here.

Next step is to start drawing the land. At the moment we only have a water background and a SHEET with the sketch map. Select default landmass by clicking on the icon in the top left corner of the program. Fill in the land as it is in the sketch map, once you are done you will see the land texture as its SHEET is on top of the sketch. Now is also the time to fill in all the islands if you have any. Also remember that the sketch map is a sketch, if you feel like you want to change anything just do that, I for example added in some more small islands that I thought made the map look better.

When you are done you wont see the sketch map so you have to hide the SHEET with the land texture. To do this click on the SHEET and EFFECTS icon and mark the Land SHEET with an H in its right box, as in the picture. You will now be able to see the sketch map again.

When I start adding symbols to a map I always start in the upper left corner and work my way down while going from left to right. In this way I will always get the symbols in the right order, which will make it much quicker to finish the map. In this first step I’m only adding all the big strokes that means mountains, forests and rivers, just so that I’ll get a grip of the map. I also try to not make the terrain too square because that will make the map look stiff and boring. You want to have a map that feels organic, it will make it look much more alive. This is especially true when it comes to the rivers. Straight rivers don’t look god, try to make them curved so you will get a sense of that they are flowing. Also remember that rivers always branch out upwards. That means that you will have many starting points but only one end point. The only exception to this is if you have a river delta at the end where the river will meet the ocean.

Details addedAt this point the map looks rather empty so it is time to add in some more details. A good thing to do is also to hide the sketch maps SHEET so you can see all textures for your map. When I say details I mainly mean to add in some extra trees where the forest ends, adding some hills at the mountains edge and creating some deltas at the rivers. Don’t do too much at this stage since we will add in more details in the next step when it is time to actually start shaping our kingdoms. In my map I also added a volcano and some mountains on the right side map, mainly to get a better balance in the map. At this stage the main goal is to have a good base map that you can continue working on in the next step, that is when we will turn the map into a finished product.

Current Map

Previous Entries