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Category: Mapping

More Resources for your Fantasy Mapping Needs

Mount Gribbleblat on the Plains of Oxburp

Mapping, mapping, mapping!

It’s one of those things — like it or not, you need to have some basic idea of what your world looks like when writing fantasy (or Sci-fi if you are planning an extended stay on a particular planet).

Not to mention that us fantasy geeks expect some maps in your novel, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth will occur if you rip us off in that department.

As I have said in previous posts, I am mapping my fantasy world on the computer using the free Photoshop-like program Gimp.

I stand by my original opinion of keeping things simple — you are writing a story, not mapping every crevasse of the world of Blaffbrip for some science project.

The longer you spend mapping, the less time you are using to write the story. And unless you are a graphic design powerhouse, you aren’t likely to make a map worthy of printing in any case.

If you publish on dead tree, your publisher won’t be impressed by your scribbles.

If you go the independent publishing route, you may shoot yourself in the foot by putting a kindergarten level Mickey Mouse map in your book.

The point? You will need to hire, or have someone hired for you, to make the final map for your project anyway.

However, if you have some skill with Gimp or Photoshop, take a gander at these:

I have flicked pixels in Gimp for years now, starting waaaaaaay back when Winamp wasn’t a bloated beast and Internet speed was measured in bytes per second.

The program is not foreign to me, and the concepts behind graphic design, like layers, transparencies, masks, and filters are second nature at this point.

If your skill level with Photoshop and Gimp is like mine — good enough — then feel free to check out these great links to add a little flair to your map (remember, simple is the key here. Just a little flair is all you need).

First up: Brushes!

These are some amazing brushes by StarRaven over at DeviantArt.

Sketchy Cartography Brushes
Oooh, pretty…

Not bad, eh?

Take those brush files and throw them in your brushes directory (Gimp for windows, it’s under “c:users<your user name>.gimp-2.8brushes”) and use them to make nice forests and mountain ranges very quickly.

And that’s the point — they look great and let you move along at a rapid pace. Don’t get bogged down with perfection. Just add a new layer, call it mountains, and use the mountain brushes to make some ranges. Same for forests and cities.

Find them here.

A little more advanced: Tutorial to create nice landmasses with Gimp.

This is a Gimp specific tutorial, but if you know your way around Photoshop you will have no difficulty following along.

There is a website known as the Cartographers’ Guild.

It’s filled with madness.

The entire site is devoted to map making, mostly for fantasy and RPG use. You will find some of the most stunning examples of fantasy maps there, but also a rabbit hole full of maps and hints and tips.

Don’t get lost! You most likely aren’t as talented as those folks! It takes these people weeks to hand craft those maps. Keep your eye on the ball.

You can, however, find very useful tutorials that don’t require a high level of artistic skill or time to follow.

Take this for example: Using GIMP to Create an Artistic Regional RPG Map made by the user RobA.

It is a simple tutorial that, if you follow it closely, will get you a nice custom group of landmasses, complete with shallow water coastlines and bumpy looking mountains.

At very least you will learn some crazy tricks you can use later.

It would take maybe 30 minutes to get a nice, realistic map using this method, so if you are looking for something more photo-realistic and complex than slapping some lines down in MS Paint, this may float your boat.

Always keep it simple.

But feel free to have some fun at least.

You may find that simple lines on a white background is all you need, or you may find some mountain and forest brushes give the map a little life that helps inspire your writing.

Go with whatever way works for you!

Some Software to Map With

Mapping it softly

In this post I talked about mapping your fiction world, specifically fantasy worlds, and I got all nerdy on yo’ ass with tectonic plates and the like.

Today I am going to throw some software in your general direction, programs you can use to doodle your maps in various levels of detail — keeping in mind simple is probably best for you and I, the authors, and we should let the pros make the real maps later.

The stalwart companion

Time-sink warning: Super low
Pretty factor: Ugly as shit

This map took minutes to make (and looks it)
This map took minutes to make (and looks it)

Microsoft Paint on Windows (already installed on virtually all Windows computers) and Paintbrush for OS X. So simple it’s almost like drawing in the sand with a stick.

But you know what?

Brandon Sanderson used MS Paint to sketch his first map for Elantris. The map to the left is not that map.

Different color lines, some dots here and there, slap some text over the dots and squiggles, and that’s that.

MS Paint comes with Windows, and can be found under the ‘Accessories’ folder on the start menu.

Paintbrush, a nifty Paint type program for OS X, is free to download.

Getting a little Gimpy

Time-sink warning: Low
Pretty factor: Ugly as shit – Almost not ugly as shit

Gimp is a free program for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux (in yo’ repo, foo, no linky for you).

If Photoshop is that $100 steak with the fancy name, then Gimp is the tasty $10 steak from the Greek place down the road.

Both fill you, both look quite similar, but one breaks the bank.

While Gimp will never replace Photoshop for the design crowd, it will do everything you ever need when it comes to mapping.

Remember: keep it simple. Lines and dots, squiggles and zigzags.

Why use Gimp over a simpler program then?

  • Layers: You can make a layer for terrain, a layer for text, a layer for nude froliking elves, whatever.
  • Exports: Save the file as the default Gimp format, XCF, or export it to bmp, jpg, png, etc.
  • Effects: While you are keeping it simple (right?), feel free to throw in a drop-shadow under your city names or other very simple effects to give it that bit of pizzaz. Youare going to have to look at this mess while you write, so dress it up a bit.
  • Free: Works on all operating systems you likely use, and so you can edit your map on the Mac, and later on your Windows laptop with the same program.

Painting in hexes

Time-sink warning: Low-Medium
Pretty factor: Nice and nerdy

Are your geeky, miniatures collecting fingers twitching as you stare at this image?

Here’s one right in between the ‘draw it all yourself’ crowd above, and the ‘pro mapping, need a book to figure it all out’ crowd below: Hex mapping.

Hex maps, used in war-gaming and other miniature nerd-fests in our child(adult)hoods, can be both simple to create and elegantly informational at the same time.

Water looks like water, mountains have a little more spunk to them than zigzags in MS Paint, and yet it doesn’t take long to make.

One of my favorites can be used for free (with some limitations) called Hexographer.

While these maps are usually fairly zoomed in deals, with each hex being a few miles or even mere meters, nothing is stopping you from making a zoomed out overview of your entire world, each hex being a hundred or two hundred miles.

For the cartographers out there (NEEEERRD!)

Time-sink warning: Electric nerd storms with a chance of never writing your book
Pretty factor: Possibly professional looking

Some people don’t suck at this stuff like I do.

Maybe you want to get into better mapping programs because you can — you’ve DMed a hundred games of D&D since the blue box, and live on vibrant worlds and Mountain Dew.

AutoREALM is like a CAD system for map-nerds. Free, but by default, it’s pretty damn ugly (though some intrepid folks are working on updating the whole thing as we speak), but it can draw fractal lines, city icons, compass roses, etc. With a little work, however, you can make a decent old-style map with continents, mountains, rivers and ruins.

And the holy grail of mapping software: Campaign Cartographer. This is the real deal. Pro software with a pro learning curve, tons of map icons and filters, and a hefty price tag to top it off. If you want to be the sole creator of your map and never have another taint your magnificent creation with their unwashed hands, here’s what you need. If you go this route, good luck to you, for many have traveled those dark and dust roads, never to be seen again.

Remember, don’t get yourself so wrapped up in your mapping you lose sight of what you are mapping for — to write a story that takes place in that world — but I hope these programs are useful to you!