My June 2014 style for Profantasy

hill fort

If you subscribe to Profantasy’s monthly annual you can this month pick up the latest style I’ve made for them (June 2014). The style is a black and white battle map style that mainly is made for online play on sites like roll20.net.

The idea for the style comes from a commission I got last year when a client contacted me for some maps that he could use for his online games with his friends. The maps were all in the same square sized format and followed some specific rules, which made them rather quick to do. After having done a couple of maps I really started to like doing them, it was a lot of fun.

I made eleven maps before the client’s campaign came to an end, and no more maps were needed. But I couldn’t really drop the idea of the maps, and started to think that there probably are a lot more people out there that would like to have a quick way of making maps like this.

So I contacted Ralf and Simon at Profantasy and asked them if they would be interested in releasing a style based on the maps I made for the client. They thought it was a great idea, and the result you can see in this months (June 2014) annual.

The goal with the style is that you as a GM should be able to make a map in about ten minutes (or more if you really want to fiddle around) that you can use for your game. In the end when you get used with the style you probably can have a short break while gaming, quickly create a map of a small town, mine, forested area or something else you need, and then add it to your gaming night.

In this way you really can be very flexible while playing and if the players decide to something you haven’t prepared, well just make a quick map of it and game on 🙂

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Back to the future

Ormgudensdal

I started to play RPG’s some years too late to really experience the old hex crawling games. But for some reason I’ve always liked the simplicity in the world and area maps used by then. So when I was asked to make a map for a Swedish old school adventure called “The valley of the Snake god” (Ormgudens dal) I gladly accepted.

The adventure is a tribute to the old hex crawling ones and I was asked to make the full colour hex map in the middle of the book, yes the one you can see at the top of this blog post as well.

The map was really fun to make and to help me out I used the 2010, July annual from Profantasy. As always when you use a style as your base for a commissioned map there will be symbols that are missing. So to solve this I had to make the symbols myself. That maybe doesn’t sound that hard but the problem you get is that even though I easily can make some hex symbols, the one I made had to fit in with the already existing ones.

If you don’t succeed the new symbols will be in the way for the overall harmony of the map, and I know I at least would get very annoyed by that. Lucky for me I’m quite good at copying a style while drawing and I’m very pleased with the new symbols I made for the style, can you spot them?

The adventure itself is a very good one with some “Alien” influences added to it which make it a bit different from many other fantasy adventures I’ve played. If you’re Swedish, or can read Swedish, I can warmly recommend it, if for nothing else so for the beautiful colour map 😉

Not just a map

Nehibia

What makes up a great map? That is a question I often ponder on. When I make my maps I always try to make more than just a map, I try to make a story. One of the first fantasy maps I came in contact with while growing up was the map in lord of the rings. And just by looking at that map you could see stories unfold. You could follow the rivers, the forests, mountain ranges, everywhere strange names. It took some time between me finding the map and me reading the book. But before starting on the book I already knew a lot about the world, just by looking at the map.

That is how I want my maps when I make them, I want them to tell stories. The more you look at the map the more things should start to unfold in front of your eyes, make you follow the rivers, finding the kingdoms, the wastelands. I want my maps to be like a library of imagination.

Another challenge is when someone else want you to make a map for them. I’m always flattered when people contact me and they want me to do that. They are actually trusting me that I shall make a map of something from their imagination, and of course I want that to be as good as possible. It is always hard to create something that someone already might have a clear view of what it should look like. Usually you have to meet somewhere in between, and it is always easier to make a map if you know a bit of the story. And if you know a bit of the story you can put that into the map.

The map at the top of this post is a commission I made for the Chronicles of Lo-Hin, you can read more about that by visiting their homepage. The client had a clear view on what he wanted and after a while we agreed on using Jon Roberts Overland style from Profantasy’s March annual in 2011. Personally that style is my favorite overland style that has been released for Campaign cartographer 3 (CC3). All symbols in the style are absolutely gorgeous, so when my client asked me to do some custom symbols that would fit into the style I nearly freaked out and thought, that wont be possible. But I gave it a try and I must say that I’m quite pleased with the result. Can you spot them?

I worked quite a lot on getting the style the way I and my client wanted, I’ve tweaked the style a bit in Photohop by applying some filters and textures to give it the feeling we were after. This is also the first map where I decided to make the rivers in Photoshop instead of CC3. The reason for this is that I wanted the rivers to look more natural. If you make the rivers in CC3 you get a curved line that has the same width all the way. I wanted the width to differ in size, that would make the rivers look more alive.

Also I wanted the map to have a lot of details that you had to look for, details that together would want your imagination to start telling you a story. So it wouldn’t be just a map but something more. Did I succeed with that? Well that is for you to tell.

Outside my comfort zone

test map dungeon
We all have our comfort zones in everything we do, and so do I when it comes to mapping. Most of the maps I do are either overland or city maps and while doing them I’m feeling very safe. I know what’s looking good and how to accomplish the things I have in mind for the map. But staying inside your comfort zone wont make you better in what you do. You have to force yourself to step outside, to do the things you feel insecure about. That is the best way to improve whatever you do to the next step.

Earlier this year, before the summer, I was asked by a Swedish RPG company to do some old school dungeon maps. I hadn’t done many before and felt a bit insecure about it but I thought I could give it a try. The maps turned out pretty well (you can see them in the book “Monster” for the Swedish RPG Fantasy!) and doing them kind of gave me the urge to do more.

I started to play around with different ideas and made a couple of test maps to see where I could get with this. Around this time I also talked to Ralf at Profantasy to see if they would be interested in me making a Black and White dungeon style for their annuals. I sent him some of the test maps and he thought it’d be a great idea, so we agreed on me making the style, to be released now in October.

evil temple

When you make a style for Profantasy you get a list of things that usually are included, so I started at the top and ticked them off when I had them done. All symbols are made in a program called Artrage that has been a great help while doing the symbols, especially the “Paint symmetry” tool. The tool lets you divide the painting in between 2 and 12 parts. Everything you do in one part will be repeated in the others. So if you for example draw a coffin you divide the painting in two pieces, everything you draw on the left side will be repeated on the right side, and this will make the coffin have the correct proportions.

Making the style has been great fun and I already want to make more symbols to flesh it out. The style includes around 75 unique symbols but as always you cannot get it all in there. You will always miss something. But I think the selection of symbols is more than enough to make it possible to do the map you want. I actually even included a couple of monsters that you can populate your dungeon with.

I feel that I really had to step outside my comfort zone to make this style, and that I have learned a lot from it. Hopefully those experiences will improve my future maps.

I hope you will enjoy the style now in October.

Remaking a style

september_map
One of the programs I use the most while mapping is CC3 from Profantasy. The good thing with CC3 is that due to the annuals they release every year, that gives you a new style every month, there is now a vast collection of styles that you can use.

Most of the styles are quick to work with and you can produce a finished map that looks good in a rather short time. When we talk about short times and mapping, that still means quite many hours of work. But for me CC3 is usually the program I use in the beginning of my process of making a map, nearly all maps I start working on in CC3 will end up in Photoshop sooner or later.

So why do I do that? Well mainly it is because whenever I use a style there are things I like to change or things I want to enhance. One of the drawbacks of CC3 is that when you work with a style you are limited to what’s in the style. You can of course use symbols from other styles in the particular style you’re using, but not many styles work well together.

Sometimes you want more then what is offered and sometimes you just want to change the feeling of the map by adjusting the colours. Of course you can do a lot of those things in CC3 as well, but not all. And due to that my skills in CC3 are being quite limited it is much quicker for me to open up the map in Photoshop and do the changes I want there.

As an example lets look at the latest style from the Annuals, the overland style made by JT Vendel. The style is absolutely gorgeous and the mountains in it are among the best ones released. But still there are things I want to do different. For a start I have some mixed feelings regarding the water texture, so I wanted to change the texture in the map and see how the result would be.

When a friend of mine asked if I could make a map for his RPG campaign I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to test the style again, with my changes.

To do this I picked a flat grey texture as the sea, in this way it would be very easy for me to select the grey water in Photoshop and replace it with something else, in this case a paper texture that I partially coloured blue and a pattern of waves that I made. However the sea felt a bit empty now so I added some sea monsters from the July issue of this years annual. Those monsters are only in black and white, so I had to colour them in Photoshop so that they would fit into the style.

Another thing I like to do outside of CC3 are rivers. I like my rivers width to change while they flow downstream, it gives the rivers some more life. In CC3 the rivers will be a line with the same width all the way. Yes you can change the size of the line, but it will still just be a line. Also i feel like I have more control of how the river flows when I do them outside CC3, but that might just be me.

I’m very pleased with the end result and the new sea texture and sea monsters gives the map a feeling of an old medieval map, in a fantasy sort of way. I think the feeling is different from when you use the original sea, which one that is better is hard to say. It is more about what version of the style that works best with the setting you are mapping for.

The Annual September style

Two kingdoms

This month saw the release of a new overland style in the monthly annual from Profantasy. This style was made by TJ Vandel, or Schwarzkreus as he is known as over at the Cartographers guild. The style itself is lovely with a very handmade feel to it. It is quite sharp in its details and it feels like the symbols are made with a pen on paper.

In the style you have an astonishing amount of mountains and hills to choose from. This is a style that crave a lot of mountains. They feel like the soul of the style. If you’re not going to use them you can as well just use another style. This style wont come to its full potential if you don’t use mountains in it.

Apart from the mountains there are some nice textures of deserts, open plains, fields and more. You also get some really nice cities, castles and more to place in the map.

The only thing I’m feeling very divided towards in the style is the sea texture. To be honest I can’t really decide if I like it or not. The sea texture is very colourful compared to the rest of the textures and this makes it take over the map a bit. At the same time it is the seas that makes the style unique compared to other styles. I guess I’ll use it in some maps in the future, but in some others I might try something else for the seas.

The style was very easy to use and you can, thanks to the shear amount of symbols, very quickly make large mountain areas. So you can without a problem make a map in an evening if you need to, and the finished result is gorgeous. I’m definitely going to use it in more maps in the future.

In the map I picked another font though then the recommended one. I didn’t like the included one in the style, but that might just be me. And one of the good things in CC3 is that If you don’t like the default font you can just pick another one.

The June Annual

June annual test map

This month’s annual from Profantasy for Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3) included a very nice looking overland style that has a comic book look and feel. I must admit that I really like it and it will definitely work perfect for maps I use when I play with my kids. So I decided to try it out.

The style itself is as I said very charming and the symbol are well done. You have a good selection of things to put in your map, even though you always want more than what is delivered. But I know how hard it is to get everything in when you make a map style, I’ve actually added a symbol or two for the styles I’ve made for Profantasy when I started making maps with them. Doing that for this style could actually be a good challenge for my drawing skills.

One thing I thought of after finishing my map in the style is that I made it a bit too wide, I thinks this style should be more dense looking to get it to look at its best. I’m still pleased with the result but my next map in it will probably be better, learning from the experience of the first one.

The style is really fast and rewarding to work in and the time it takes to make a map in it compared to the time invested in the process of making it is very good. You can say you get a lot of good looks for very little time spent.

Those with a sharp eye will also spot that I actually used another font than the included one for the map. There is actually no certain reason for it, I just wanted to test what the map would look like with another font.

I will definitely come back to this style making a map or two and the only thing I miss now is a dungeon style with the same comic book feeling as this one.