Creating a Tanaris Regional Map by Jens Fuhrberg

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:

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!

The next step is to take a photo of the region from the original map and to import it into CC. When I make a map from an existing one, I take a picture from a bigger part of the world than I plan to map, because I often modify my original plans during the drawing process and make the map bigger.

I have no fixed order in doing a map like e.g. at first landmass, at second sea etc. For me mapping is fun and a hobby and so I do the things in the order that springs to mind. With this map I want to start with the big mountain ranges in the middle.

It usually takes me several attempts until I am satisfied. In this case I deleted the mountains about six times and started from scratch until I was happy. I think I will leave them as they are, maybe add some foothills, but this I will leave for the final phase of the map.

To everyone who ever played RdW this northwestern region is very special as the most epic campaigns take place here. The narrative of the region is relatively simple (the four united barbarian kingdoms fight against the empire of Tinor), the landscape is spectacular, and some of the strangest high fantasy places are located here. I will add more details on this later when I elaborate on the map, but I point it out now, because it defines the “feeling” the map should have when it is done. This “feeling” influences the colors, the intensity of symbols, and the stories the map tells. The idea in my head was to make a map for an impressionistic, psychedelic action movie (Fear and Loathing in Tanaris).

The basic requirement to get such a result is that the objects on the map (symbols, mountains, fill styles) fit together. The overall impression of the map also needs to be dreamy, and look like something far, far away. The basic tools to achieve this are the “transparency” sheet effect and texturizing the finished map. Transparency is especially important to adjust symbols from different symbol sets (in one set the colors are strong, in others pale; the painting styles are very different etc.).

The problem with the transparency effect is that symbols do react differently to it (e.g. some disappear at the edges, some don’t). To avoid this and still bring different styles together and get homogeneous impression, I use a basic “trick” at the beginning, which works very well for me when mapping on a parchment background. I add a sheet at the end of the sheet list, copy the background parchment to it, and add a “transparency” effect. For this map I start with 35% transparency, but this may change later. To demonstrate the effect of this technique I add a symbol which I will explain later.

Without the cheat-sheet:

With the cheat-sheet:

The look may not be for everybody, but it is entirely optional. If you don’t like it, don’t use it.

To get a better overview of the situation after doing the main mountain ranges, the next thing I create is the landmass. For me this is always a difficult decision, because at the start of a map I usually don’t know how the land and all the ‘background’ colors (grassland, steppe etc.) should look like. In some maps I did in the past I created the land first, put a lot of effort into it, but needed to redo it in the end, because I found a different approach. For this reason, I don’t put too much effort into the landmass in the beginning and paint it in an unremarkable brown with high transparency (the islands use a lower transparency just to see them better in this phase of the map).

To get a bit of color into the map the next step is the sea. I don’t like doing the sea much, because the sea is where the rivers end, and I hate doing river mouths. I don’t like to let the rivers just end abruptly and I prefer to let them fade smoothly into the sea. In past maps this was always a frustrating part for me, because you arrive with a blue river at a textured sea and then it took me hours to get an acceptable result. For this reason I want to try a sea without texture this time. Instead I will use a solid blue color because, hoping it will help when it comes to the river mouths.
I use three sheets for the sea: one for the whole ocean area in a light blue (color 58 in JR style, ‘inner edge fade’ with edge with 8 units, inner opacity 85 % and outer opacity 100%), one for the transition zone in a darker shade (color 55, same ‘inner edge fade’), and one for the deep sea in dark blue (color 52, ‘inner edge fade’ with edge with 50 units, inner opacity 25% and outer opacity 100%).
Without sheet effects the sea looks like this:

I am satisfied for the moment with the effect of the three sea sheets combined with my “trick” sheet. It’s time to place the first piece of fantasy on the map. Initially I had planned to finish the basic layout of the map bevor I start with the fantasy stuff, but who cares? This is not a project for work, so let’s create a hurricane with a culture of people living on boats in the eye of the storm.
I was looking for a bitmap fill and I found a nice one in Cosmographer, Terrains, Satellite Terrain, named “Cloud Dense”. I use this to create a fill style and draw polygons for the first level of the hurricane:

I add an inner edge fade (15 % edge width, 100% inner, 0% outer) and I get this:

I repeat this procedure to add further polygons on new sheets. Most of them use the inner edge fade effect as above, some with a bit of variation. Sometimes I draw only a single polygon on a sheet, when I find something is missing in a specific place:

I try out, delete, add a polygon here and there until I am satisfied. At the end I have 15 sheets making up the cloud-arms. If I was doing this more often I think the number of sheets may decrease significantly. This is the result:

Within the hurricane you find a culture called ‘Arden, the Children of the Western Winds’. It’s a swimming town of more than 200 ships, all connected with gangways. In the center sits a huge ship that houses their government. The ships sail in the eye of a massive eternal hurricane, created by the god Thyron to protect his people.

I like to put context like this on a map. Here all the content is from official sourcebooks of RdW. Creating symbols to show things like the hurricane can be a large effort, sometimes taking hours for just symbol. But I think it is worthwhile, because these are the things that make a great fantasy map.

You could create the most beautiful map in the world – but if it includes no fantasy content, it would not make me want to roll my dice. Luckily to complete this fantastic part of the map it just takes some ships, some gangways, and the symbol for the god Thyron:

In the next part of the tutorial I will focus on creating symbols of fantasy-themed locations, because for me they are the bread and butter of a map that is meant to invite the players to a fantastic game.

Part 2 of Creating the Tanaris World Map will be available next month.

Jens Fuhrberg started playing RPGs in the 90s and still does it. One of his favorite games is no longer being supported since 20 years ago, so doing his own maps is kind of necessary. Besides this, he found out how relaxing and meditating mapping can be – so some people do Yoga, he creates fantasy maps.

2 Responses to “Creating a Tanaris Regional Map by Jens Fuhrberg”

  1. Hi Jens,
    I absolutely love your attention to detail and enthusiasm. Good advice and some really nice workarounds, all bedded in what sounds to be an awesome fantasy world. Can’t wait to read part 2 and see the final product!

    Screw yoga & keep mapping Bro

  2. A really great article, and the hurricane is just so terrific. Thanks for doing this, Jens