Jon C. Munson II


The mapping style of Mike Schley is, simply put, beautiful. It is no wonder that Wizards of the Coast sought him out for many of the maps used in their products. His use of line, shading, and slightly muted color do a fantastic job of creating the illusion of a truly hand drawn map with dimensional objects. And, well, for the most part that is exactly what they are – hand drawn, albeit done using programs like Adobe Photoshop and/or others. If you haven’t seen his maps, you really owe it to yourself to take a look at them.

I had always liked Schley’s maps, and wanted to produce a few maps for a module I had in mind for the Dungeons & Dragons group that I run. Knowing how many hours it would take to hand-draw the maps, I looked for a way to cut down some of the time required. Enter ProFantasy’s Campaign Cartographer 3+ (“CC3+”). The program uses a number of Schley’s symbol packs (for example Symbol Set 4 – Dungeons of Schley), and that was perfect for me. Well, almost – I needed further symbols to suit my module. Now I had to figure out how to both create symbols and emulate Schley’s style to produce the symbols I needed. And, I also had to figure out how to get those into CC3+. It turns out it isn’t a hard job, but, it is a bit tricky, and most of the effort is in creating the symbols themselves. Schley’s style seems to be fairly involved, and that complexity is what makes them so appealing.

Personally, I have no idea how Mike Schley goes about making his symbols or drawing his maps. I have, however, studied his symbols and maps to try and figure out how he makes his creations. Despite many hours, I’m still uncertain of his exact process, but I think I have at least a little idea. I discerned enough to be able to put together symbols that are “close enough” to Schley’s style to be good compliments (at least I think so). Frankly, my goal in trying to figure out his methods wasn’t to be a forger, but, rather, to emulate – I had no desire to be “Mike Schley,” though he is an excellent talent to learn from!

Equipment Needed

Though it is entirely possible to use a mouse to create symbols, I strongly suggest obtaining a graphics tablet. I use a Wacom myself, and highly recommend their tablets. I know of others who use Asian variants with success (depends upon which ones though), so you might be able to get a less-expensive tablet to start.

You’ll also need both raster & vector editing software. While I have Adobe CC, there are other alternatives out there such as Gimp and Inkscape. I have briefly used those in the past, however, as I use Photoshop and Illustrator, I’ll be discussing things from the point of those tools. Most of that discussion should translate to another tool, and you may have to improvise with those other tools.

One thing I cannot get into in this article are the components that make up each symbol – you’ll have to experiment and decide what elements make up your objects. A bit of mechanical drawing is quite helpful, and understanding perspective will come in very handy too. Everything is made up of either, or any number of, rectangles, circles, lines, arcs, etc. Do experiment, and use the Internet to find samples, etc.

Image Sizing

CC3+ symbols have four sizes – Very High, High, Low and Very Low. You want to create symbols at the Very High resolution, and CC3+ will take care of the other sizes when you import them. See the CC3+ documentation for details. In fact, reading through the CC3+ documentation, and consulting the forum, concerning creating symbols is definitely in your interest as well.


Let’s take a look at a simple chair:

There are several things to note about its construction. First, note that the linework of the object forms the description of the object, and the value variations within the object gives a 3D impression. Many of Schley’s symbols don’t include the value, thus producing the “ink” symbols. Second, note the border around the object, and sometimes an inner border around other objects (like a book on a table), is a little thicker than the detail linework. Third, note that the detail linework, when there is value applied, is usually surrounded by a slightly darker value of the “main” value of the object.
Fourth, note that the object itself has variations in value (mimicking “wood” in this case), as well as descriptive value to indicate 3D depth. Finally, note the color – intentionally set to mimic watercolor, the colors are a bit desaturated (wood also has a desaturated tone by virtue). This does not, however, detract from the richness of the symbols, but rather forms a complimentary feel to the heavier linework. The effect is, in essence, a watercolor wash, and is an important element in Schley’s style.

The linework here is really something to be admired – quite a lot of variation in thickness and style. This gives the hand-drawn look to the symbols and is important in order to be able to produce symbols that would compliment Schley’s style.

Now that we have an idea of how Schley creates his symbols in terms of components, we can proceed with creating our own.

Making Our Own

Creating symbols that emulate Schley is actually not a trivial task. There is quite a lot involved, depending upon the complexity of the object, and does require a little artistic flair – not that one must be an artist to create symbols of course. With a bit of effort, you can get pretty close! The real trick is rendering a 3D feel – perspective is something that really “sells” these symbols. The beauty of working on the computer is you can simply delete or undo as much as you like and try again. You may also find that sketching on a piece of paper to be useful practice too. I did just that with a few symbols I made as I found that easier.

The first thing to do is to on the object to be drawn. I will start with an object I created for my symbol set – a cabinet. This symbol doesn’t involve perspective, so is much easier to create.

After a few experiments with creating these symbols (remember, I’m not attempting to “be” Schley), I decided that I would start with vector outlines for my symbols, and that was more easily accomplished in Illustrator (or a vector program of your choice). Illustrator also has a method by which variation in line can be achieved (through a little deformation) that does a good-enough job of giving us a hand-drawn result.

Now, as with any object, we have to draw out the components. If you look at the cabinet carefully, you can see that it can be broken down into a few rectangles, some circles, and some lines. Draw out the components of the cabinet, don’t worry about making it “look like” the symbol I’ve created – just concentrate on the basic shapes. For the sake of learning, you could just create a simple rectangle for now. Be mindful of the width of the stroke – you don’t want anything too wide, nor anything too narrow. The size of your object will dictate the width of the border strokes. Use Schley’s symbol as a guide for border line thickness ratio.

Once you have the shape(s) defined, the next step is to change the line shape from obviously vector to something a little more hand-drawn in appearance. For that, we’ll use the Effect->Distort & Transform->Roughen. In the next dialog, you’ll first want to check the Preview box so you can see what effect changing the command’s parameters has on your object. The Size slider dictates the amount of “wobble” in the line – go ahead, play with it, can’t hurt anything right now. I use a value between 2 and 4 pixels. The Detail slider dictates the frequency that the Size slider occurs. Again, experimentation is key here. The last option, Points, needs to be set to Smooth. You might, on occasion, use the Corner option, but in this case we want Smooth.

As you can see from the preview, your object looks a lot more hand-drawn. If you like your changes, click OK, and move on to the next step.

Once you’ve gotten your basic outlines created and your object defined, export that out as a PSD and open the file in Photoshop. You should then have a “Layer 1” group that is your vector artwork (now rasterized). If your line work is not grouped, create a new group from those layers (you can name it anything you like of course).
In the case of the cabinet, I wanted to make it appear to be made from wood – you could choose other materials, like various kinds of stone, or clay, etc. Creating the subtle impression of wood grain could be a daunting task – there’d be lots of hand-painting to do. However, there is an easier route – using a color fill and a texture to produce the illusion. So, I first used a Color Fill, choosing a wood-like value. Be careful here, wood is not highly saturated, so stay on the desaturated side of the color picker – less saturation is more. Set the blend mode to Multiply, and set the layer as a Clipping Mask on top of the linework layer. This color will help re-value the texture and give a little more room for experimentation. Then I used a free wood texture set to Multiply (there are loads of these on the Internet). You might notice this will make your image a little darker, etc. Using both Levels and Hue/Saturation, I adjusted things to taste. You do not have to use a Color Fill as I did, you could just as easily re-color the texture using adjustments. How you follow what I’ve done is completely up to you.

After that, I added a new layer on which to create the interior linework. Using the standard round brush, keeping my brush size smaller than my border with (about 1/2 or so, adjust to your needs), I drew in the planks and interior borders of the cabinet. This is where studying Schley’s artwork comes in handy. Notice how he created his lines – where it is long, short, dots, etc. Pay attention to how he demarcates curves, grades, slopes, etc. You want to approach that same style to be in keeping with his overall look. Take your time, and feel free to clear the layer and start over. When you want straight strokes, use the Shift key. Otherwise, feel free to “freehand” the line – we are creating hand-drawn symbols after all.

Once you have your linework completed, add an Outer Glow effect set to Multiply, and choose a color that is close to the wood color you are using. Experiment with how strong you want that by changing the Opacity slider. Use Schley’s symbols as a guide, and, of course, these are your symbols, so make them as you wish.

Your interior linework layer should almost always be your top layer – you don’t want to hide those lines beneath other opaque layers, so most of your work from here will go below that layer in the stack. The reason for this will become apparent as you work, however, what will happen is the painting you do will subtly change the linework appearance in ways that are not desirable. Opaque layers and Screen layers will overwrite/lighten your linework. The linework provides a guide for the shading and highlights, that’s why the layer needs to be near topmost in the stack and the other layers lay below.
If you feel you need more shading in places, create another layer, set its Blend Mode to Multiply, and using a more desaturated color, fill in your shading. You should use the Soft Round brush for this to get a feathering effect.

After that, the next step is to add selective highlights. You want to add subtle “high spots” to various portions of the symbol. Create a new layer and set its Blend Mode to Screen. Using the Soft Round brush again, create those highlights. If you are using a tablet, you may wish to set the brush size to pressure to help create variable line widths.

Now, as the vector linework comes in as a group of vector outputs, you want to make a Copy Merged copy of the vector linework to place on top of the interior linework you completed. This way all of your linework will be topmost – ensuring any painting below does not unduly affect it. If the layer is filled with white, just set the Blend Mode to Multiply (Multiply ignores white).

The last thing I added, and you won’t do this to all symbols, is a little bit of drop shadow. Sometimes this is helpful, but can interfere with CC3+ shading algorithm, so be careful how much you apply. A little drop shadow can help “bed” the symbol in your drawings, so they appear to be a part of the map instead of just a “sticker” upon it.

Once done, you’ll save out your symbol as a PNG file (otherwise you won’t get transparency). The next step from there is to import your symbol into CC3+, and that’s beyond the scope of this article – consult the CC3+ documentation for that, and/or search the forum for assistance.

What I’m Doing With My Maps

The module I’ve created was born from a Wizards of the Coast campaign upon which I started my group. There was a nice hook within for a personal offshoot, so I ran with it and created a 4-map, 80+ page dungeon that my players are still trawling (and thoroughly enjoying). The “Munson’s Mines” symbol set was born from this module.

While I don’t have Fantasy Grounds, or a fancy in-table monitor to display my maps to the players, they do receive a copy of the level once they’ve completed it (and explored enough that I don’t mind if a few areas are “uncovered” as a result). I do rather prefer they do things the old-fashioned way and map their way by hand – provides more immersion factor I think. After they’ve explored everything, I don’t mind handing them a “player copy.” They get to see just where they got confused with directions, and how accurately they rendered the location. They have really enjoyed the module, and really like the maps. I should probably print them larger, as much of the details I’ve put in get lost on an 8.5×11 (A4) sheet.

CC3+ is a fantastic CAD program for mapping our fantasy worlds as it is feature- and, most importantly, symbol-rich, and I hope this article inspires you to create your own symbols to add to it.

I am delighted to accept an invitation from Profantasy to present the methods I use to make parchment and parchment scrolls for use as backgrounds in CC3. I hope that you will find the information useful.

Both these methods require you to have and make basic use of the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). GIMP is a free application and can be downloaded from this page:

Once you have installed and opened the software, it will be easier for you to follow this tutorial if you set it up so that it looks similar to the screen shots I’ve included. To do that click the Windows menu, and then Single Window Mode.

Your screen should now look like this:

(You won’t have the Script-fu menu item, since this is an add-on I’ve downloaded separately to the main program.)

PART 1 – Making the parchment
Continue reading »

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


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, 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 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.

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