Mountains galore

This is another old map made in Photoshop depicting an area of the Etrakien world that ceased to exist in the latest version of the map. In my earlier world map there was a chain of mountains that effectively created a barrier between the civilized world and the wild north. The only way for a traveler to easily pass the mountains was to use the valley in the northern part of Krugland.

When I remade the Etrakien map the mountain chain disappeared because the story of the world needed an easier path for the barbarians to get to the civilized world. They kind of gave a helping hand to the demise of the two great empires that had struggled for a century.

The reason for me to do the map was that I after having finished the Ankh-Bathor map wanted to do a map with mountains. You can say that the map was a way for me to try a new style for my mountains. And secondly the area was an interesting place to map, valleys are always exciting.

As usual when you look back at old maps there are things that you are pleased with and things you would have done differently today. This map suffers a bit from the same problem as the one in the last post, too many details, or more specifically too much of the wrong thing. For example the hills in the valley are killing all the other details, they are too small in comparison with their surroundings.

Getting objects in your map correspond with each other in a way that gives the map the right feeling isn’t always so easy. The only way to get better at it is to practice, and that means making more maps. Sometimes it also means remaking things that you might have struggled with for a long time, but in the end doesn’t look right. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, the worst thing that can happen is that you worked on something that you have to throw in the bin. But at least you’ve learned something from it.

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Zooming in


This is an older map made in Photoshop picturing the area around Ankh-Bathor. The map was made after I’d finished the first digital map of the Etrakien world and I decided that I wanted to develop the style to a more local view.

The original Etrakien style, that actually was made into a style for Campaign Cartographer 3 in the April 2009 Annual from Profantasy, was primarily made for making worldmaps depicting continents. In the Ankh-Bathor map I needed to change the focus of the style to more depict only a small area of the world.

Whenever I decide to zoom in to make a more local map of my world I usually find it hard to limit the amount of detail I want in the map. And this first experiment with the style suffers a bit from that. In future maps I’ve tried to be a bit harder on myself when it comes to details. Make sure that the important details are there but try to sort out the unnecessary ones. Otherwise your important ones will drown in a forest of details.

I’m still pleased with the map and I learned a lot that from it that I could use in future maps. In the end this style developed into what you see in my current maps I make in Photoshop, like the one of the Truscian peninsula.

Overland mapping part 2

Finally here is the second part in my overland mapping tutorial. If you want to read the first part before continuing you can find it here. As usual this is my view of mapping and you might agree to it all or just parts of it. The important thing to remember is that this is one view of mapping, and not the only one.

Ok back to the map. We have some landmass, islands and seas so what’s next. At this stage I always try to place mountains and hills. If you desire you can try to work out where you would have tectonic plates and from that information decide where to put the mountains. I never do that, I’m more going for the “if it looks good it looks correct” path here.

First of all I often try to use my mountains to divide the landmass into different areas. It is an easy way of making natural borders in the map that you later can use when it is time to decide where to put the borders between different countries.

Secondly I try to make my mountain chains curved. If you make them straight the map will, in my opinion, look a bit stiff, which will give you a less good looking end result. When I say curved I don’t mean that they should look like circles. Curved mountain chains will give more life to the map, it will get more fun to look at.

Also try to break up the mountain chains at some points. It will give you some interesting valleys and passes that can trigger the beholders imagination in a good way. Is there really a more interesting place for a campaign then a mountain valley full of orcs or strange creatures, maybe a deserted watch tower or an old haunted burial ground.

Around the mountains I place some hills to make the transition from mountain to field look more natural. A good idea might also be to put some hills between two mountain areas that are quite close to each other. It will connect them in a nice way.

When you’re done with your mountains it is time to start on the rivers. The basics when it comes to rivers are that they flow from high ground downwards, they don’t split downwards, but they can have more than one starting point. Usually they also try to get to the sea the shortest downhill way. If you try to follow those two rules the rivers will look more naturally.

Another thing to think of is that the straighter the river is the faster the flow of the river will be. Most rivers tend to be straighter and faster in the beginning and closer to the sea they usually will slow down, which means more curves. When I put rivers in my maps I tend to do them quite curvy. It will usually look better, straight rivers just don’t get the right feeling, at least that’s my opinion.

Mapping relations

I’m a big fan of MS Visio. It is a great program that I’m using a lot at work to make pictures that explain my work environment in a clear and easy way. I was also lucky enough to be able to buy the program for a low price to use at home.

But now you might start to think what this has to do with mapping, quite a lot actually. Visio is a great tool even for mapping, but not mapping in the traditional way. Even though you actually can do great maps of offices in it, maps that in style could be great as blue prints in a game that takes place in the modern world.

But I’m more interested in making fantasy maps, so how am I using Visio here. Well so far I’ve mainly used it to map the relations between nations and factions. With it you can make great maps that give you a good look of how the different nations correspond to each other.

As an example I’ll show you the “relation” map of the Etrakien world below.

When I started to create my Etrakien world the main thing I was clear about was that there had been two empires that collided and in the end brought themselves to a collapse. After that the world was divided into a lot more countries then before. In the beginning I only had the name of a few but as I started to map the world I had to make up some more. So now I have fifteen countries around the Etrakien sea, countries that in one way or another have to relate to each other.  

I knew that The Etrakien Empire and the Arnorian Empire hated each other, and still theoretically were at war, and that the Etrakien Empire wanted to reconquer Ankh-Bathor. But what about the rest of the countries, who were they friends or enemies with?

So I decided to make a simple map in Visio to get my ideas and thoughts on paper. In the map you can see the relations between countries with colourful arrows. If there is no arrow between two countries that means that they are neutral to each other.

I started to put in the two obvious ones, the red arrow between Etrakien and Arnor and the orange one between Etrakien and Ankh-bathor. I then started to think what I would have done if I were Ankh Bathor, probably trying to find some allies. No country wants to fight a war at two fronts, so I’d probably try to convince Andamar to be on my side, so if the Etrakien Empire attacks, Andamar would strike them in the back and force Etrakien to divide its forces.

I continued in this way until I had gone through all the countries, and the result you can se above.