When I grew up I used to play a lot of Role playing games and especially I played a Swedish game called Drakar & Demoner (Dragons &Demons). Most of the adventures they released took place in a campaign world called Ereb Altor. At that time I thought the world was one of the coolest places for an adventure that existed, and I must say that the maps I saw then and the adventures I read really has influenced me a lot.

As I might have mentioned earlier making maps is my hobby, during the days I work as an IT-engineer, so mapping is something I do in my spare time. For that reason I’m very restrictive when it comes to taking up commissions, making maps for someone else means that I can’t make them for myself. But when I realized that the world Ereb Altor still was alive and that people still actually were working on new material I just couldn’t turn it down.

So after a short introduction to the people running the site I was asked to do a map of Kartotum, the capital city of Palinor. Making this city however turned out to a bit of a challenge. So far all of my city maps have been done in City Designer 3 (CD3) from Profantasy, a great program when it comes to make cities. However the program has its weak sides, and one of those is that it works best when it comes to making cities without too much elevation. Of course you can draw some elevation in the program, but not in a way that I wanted to do it.

You see Kartotum is situated on the slopes of a mountain so it is surrounded by great cliffs, and to draw that in CD3 was something way out of my league, if it’s even possible. So I decided to make the city and all the houses in CD3 and then draw the cliffs by using a combination of both Artrage pro and Photoshop. But to do this I first had to mark out the area in CD3 where the cliffs would be. To do this I added a green colour, different from the actual grassland, where I later would add the cliffs, as you can see in the map below. In this way I could place the symbols correctly in CD3.

When the city was done in CD3 I exported the map and opened it up in Photoshop. In Photoshop I added the black lines for the cliffs and saved the image as a .PSD file. The actual shadows around the lines I decided to add in Artrage Pro. The water colour brushes in that program are absolutely fantastic and in this way I could get the shadows exactly as I wanted them. I also added the colour of the cliffs in Artrage before opening the file in Photoshop again to add some finishing shadows and light effects.

Working on this commission has teached me a lot when it comes to adapting to some one else’s ideas and opinion and I must say that in some ways it’s even more relaxing doing maps for someone else than yourself. Suddenly you don’t need to come up with all the story and explanation to all the stuff you make. That is someone else’s headache.


Learning CD3

As you might have noticed I really like to make city maps. I don’t know why but I just love to see how a blank paper slowly turns into crawling streets and vast parks. It makes my imagination really spin.

Most of my city maps I make in the program City designer 3 (CD3) from profantasy. It is a great program with a huge toolbox you can use to make the creation of your cities a much smoother experience. To make the maps more unique I also like to edit them a bit in Photoshop afterwards.

When I bought CD3 my first impression of the program however was quite different. You can easily describe it in one word, overwhelmed. Just the sheer number of tools and objects made me fear for my mental health. The first time I started the program I think I just closed it immediately.

So how did I go from there to where I am now? Well the answer can actually be divided in three parts. First of all practice. I started out quite small with a little village and first after a couple of small practice maps I went for the bigger cities or towns. Secondly I looked up some tutorials, especially Gandwarfs tutorials over at the cartographer’s guild where extremely helpful. Thirdly there was a black and white city style released in the 2010 annual from Profantasy.

So what was so great with the black and white city style? First of all you get a very nice tutorial in every edition of the Annual, this makes it very easy to learn a new style, you can just follow the steps described. For me this meant a lot when it came to learning CD3, because I could in this way quickly pick up the different tools to use.

Secondly the amount of objects decreased quite a lot in the black and white city style compared to the coloured styles that were included in the actual program. This might sound a bit odd but the good thing here was that suddenly the program didn’t feel as overwhelming as before. When the choices in objects decreased, it kind of made it easier to grasp the program and find what you were looking for.

The map included in this post is a map that I made while trying to learn CD3. It was one of my first experiments to make a really large city map. I especially experimented a lot with the random street tool in this one. The random street tool is really a great help when you quickly need to fill and area with many houses.

When I was done in CD3 I opened the file in Photoshop and added some cliffs on the northwest side of the city. I also draw my own arena object to add to the city, I really missed that object in the style. As a finishing touch I made the map sepia coloured and placed the map on a paper background.

Well after that I just continued doing city maps and slowly the interface started to make sense and nowadays I rather feel that the there are too few objects in the program then too many 🙂

Kizik – the Krugian lock

This is the town of Kizik, also referred to as ”The Krugian lock”. The town is placed in one of the more densely populated areas in the Etrakien world where the three countries Krug, Truscia and Illyrien meet. In this three border area the trade is blooming as well as the tension between the countries rulers. Krug is closely allied with Ankh-Bathor, the city of trade, and Truscia has very close ties to the Etrakien Empire. It might be worth to mention that The Etrakien Empire claims that Ankh-Bathor rightfully belongs to them, a statement that the powerful city state obviously doesn’t agree on.

The third country Illyrien mainly has to deal with the problems and opportunities that the northern border to the eternal forest gives them. As a fourth power in the area you also have the City of the lost that is situated in the middle of a vast river delta where the river illum meets the Etrakien sea.

The area has seen both one and two military campaigns that mainly has brought death and destruction to the farmers and workers in the area while the kings and their lords has fought for control of the land. But lately the income from the trade has become more and more important to the ruling class so the last couple of years the area has been relatively calm, even though the tension is growing and smaller skirmishes has taken place. The growing strength of the Etrakien Empire and its ambitious future plans might however put a stop to this peaceful time.

The name “The Krugian lock” the city got from the fact that it controls the entrance to the river Kaznik, that is the major river in Krug. Because of this the tactical importance of the city is very big. If you look back in our own history you will see that rivers where the highways of the past, roads where in many ways hard and dangerous to travel. A boat on the river could travel in a far greater speed then a traveler by foot or wagon.

Of course there are exceptions if you look at the roman roads that where a marvel of engineering art. Roads that let you travel fast and far, but they are an exception, most of the time if you look historically roads were not more than a trampled path between the villages.

Another difference from today is actually that it generally was easier to travel in the winter. When the rivers froze you had great even roads where you easily could travel. This of course applies only to places where you have a river. Travelling on roads in the winter time was not a good idea.

The map is made in City Designer 3 and Photoshop CS5.

Making a City part 5

Now it is time to leave CC3 behind and start to do some Colour correction in Photoshop. CC3 has a lot of advantages when it comes to making city maps. It is easy to use and you can quickly come up with a very good looking city map. One of the drawbacks however, in my opinion, is that the colour palette used in the included styles are a bit too bright. That is something I usually change by opening up the finished map in Photoshop and applying some filters and effects.

This guide is not meant to be cut in stone, it’s more a way to show you how it can be done. You can pick bits and pieces from here and add to your maps. You might feel that some steps are unnecessary or that some are missing. See it more as an inspirational guide.

As you can see in the picture above I’ve added eleven layers to the map to get the look and feeling I’m after. First of all I add the layers I’ve marked as 1 and 2. They are for a start purely copies of the background image.

1. On the first layer I apply the Pixel bender filter’s oil paint effect. Pixel bender is a free addon from Adobe that let you apply different effects by using the GPU on your graphics card. This makes it possible to do some really great stuff. With the oil filter the best way of working is just testing your way through the different settings. Don’t worry if the effect comes out a bit strong. You can reduce it later by lowering the opacity of the layer.

2. The oil paint filter has a tendency to blur the image a bit, and we want our map to be clear and sharp. To achieve this I apply the Other/High Pass filter in Photoshop to the second layer. This will make the layer grey and the details light up a bit. You’re looking for a bit of a neon feeling in the picture here. When you have applied the filter change the layer setting from Normal to Overlay. This will sharpen the details in the image that got blurred in the earlier step. Again if you feel that the effect is a bit too strong just lower the opacity of the layer.

3. Now we have a nice and sharp map with a oil paint feeling but we do need some texture to make it look more genuine. For this I’m adding a texture that I’ve downloaded from the Cartographers Guild’s forum. Set the layer of the texture to Multiply. This will darken the image a lot, but don’t worry we fix this in the next step.

4-5. Time to fix the lighting in the map. At the moment the map is way too dark. To change this I add two adjustment layers/Curves. The first one (the fifth layer in the picture just to complicate things) I use to lighten up the whole map. The second one (the fourth layer) is used to darken the waters. Here I’m using the layer mask to apply the effect only to the water areas.

6. Now it is time to reduce the colours of the map to avoid the cartoonish feeling it has at the moment. For this I’m adding a new Adjustment layer/Gradient map that will turn the image into a black and white. I change the opacity setting to 50%. This will let the colours bleed through the layer but the colours will be reduced. You have to try how much you want to reduce the opacity. It depends a bit on what end result you’re after.

7. Next layer is also an Adjustment layer, levels. As you can see I’m very fond of adjustment layers. The big reason for this is that you can easily go back and change the settings or even remove the layer completely if you’re not satisfied with the result.

As you can see in the picture above what I do is that I move the white and black arrow into the middle on the graph. This will clear up the picture a bit. Be a bit careful with the settings here or you will over expose the picture which means that you will lose details.

8. Next step is to add some shadows to the forest and land. Add a new layer and fill it with 50% grey. Change the layer settings to Overlay. This will make the grey colour to disappear. Now you select the Burn tool and change the exposure to 15% and start to draw. As you will see youre now creating shadows in the map. I’m using this to make the forest a bit more interesting and alive and to add hills.

9-10. Now we’re nearly done, but the map is at the moment a bit blue (or at least mine is) and I want to change this. To fix this I’m adding yet another adjustment layer, Colour balance. In here you can increase or decrease the colours of the picture, or more correctly if you increase Red you’re decreasing Cyan and so on. When I’m done with the layer I’m still not fully satisfied so I’m adding the adjustment layer/Hue and saturation to the map to decrease the colour a bit more.

11. This layer just includes the black frame around the map.

Well that’s about it. The map is done, except labeling, and we now have a map that in my opinion has a much more appealing atmosphear than the one that comes straight from CD3. Below you can see the differense in the map before and after I’ve edited it in Photoshop.

Making a City part 4

In this post we will create the outskirts of the city, farmlands and the ruins. First of all you have to decide what parts of the city that will be farmland and what part will be ruins. In this map I wanted to create the feeling that the city is situated in the middle of an old ruined city. The two closest islands to the east and west of the city will consist of farmland. Those areas are close to the city and will be easy to protect as well. On the north part of the western island you can also see that a part of the old city wall has been taken into use again, to protect the city from whatever hides outside.

When I create farmland I always start by putting in all the roads and houses. Usually you will have a cluster of houses just outside the city gates, the further away you get from the gates the more space you will have between houses. I then select the city hedge drawing tools and start to mark out the area where the fields will be. I’m actually using the same technique here as I do when I’m making smaller towns. For a more thorough explanation on how I draw the fields see my Mapping a small town part 4 post from January this year.

When I’m done with all the fields the map looks like the picture below, so still some ruins to put in.

To complete the fields in the map I also export a map from CD3 where all the land is yellow. In this way I can combine them in Photoshop and paint in some yellow fields among the green ones. This will give you a more natural look than if the fields are just green. See my Mapping a small town part 6 post for more info on how to do this. The yellow version of the map looks like the picture below.

You can of course add in all the yellow fields in CD3, but I’ve found that to be a lot more time consuming then doing it by combining the two pictures above in a third party program. This program doesn’t need to be Photoshop, use the program that you feel comfortable with.

The next step would be to add in some ruins in the picture. Here I must say that CD3 doesn’t really have any good styles to work with, so I had to make something up myself. Creating a completely new style wasn’t something I felt I had the time or knowledge to do, but I think a good ruined city style would be a great future annual style add on (are you listening Profantasy?). Sure you have some ruins in the program that you can use, but for me a ruined city mainly consists of the foundations of the houses and maybe some larger, more intact, buildings.

So I decided to draw in some random roads and houses using the CD3 B Ruins Grey buildings. They’re not perfect, but they are a good base symbol to continue working from.

When I’ve put in all the roads and larger buildings in the map I’d export it again from CD3. This means that I now have three different versions of the map, which I’m going to put together in Photoshop, the two different ones with yellow and green fields and this one with a green background and ruins in the outskirts of the city.

At this stage I had to work on the ruins a bit in Photoshop to make them look more like ruins. If you put the map with ruins in one layer and put it on top of a layer consisting of the map with green fields. You can start to erase bits and pieces from the top layer, when you do this the layer below will be visible instead of the top one. In this way I erased all the inner parts of the buildings, which left something that looked more like the foundation of a house. I also erased parts of the larger buildings to make them look more like ruins with broken roofs and missing walls.

In the picture above you can see a part of the map where you have the ruins as they look in CD3 on the left side, and how they turned out after some editing in Photoshop on the right side. In my opinion the right side looks more like ruins then the left side. Or at least more like the ruins I wanted in this particular map.

Making a City part 3

We now have the basic layout of the city. Next step is to put in more roads and try to decide where the majority of buildings will be placed. Sometimes when you create a large city the process of placing all the houses can be overwhelming. To make this easier I try to divide the city into smaller areas. I then place the houses one area at the time, in this way you divide the work into smaller goals that you can reach quite quick. It will make the whole process much easier. In the picture below you can see how I’ve divided the city of lost souls into seven areas to fill in with houses. A good idea can also be to try to make every area intresting by adding a major house, villa or temple in it. It will add some details to your city and will make the end product more fun to look at.

At this stage I also try to locate where the major squares will be, naturally they will be situated where the large roads meet up. I also like to add some smaller squares in front of the gates, usually this is where people have to wait to get in and out of the city. You also have to decide what density your city will have. Nearly all cities have some sort of park or green area, older cities could actually have quite a lot of farmland inside the walls. In this case how ever the farmlands are outside the city walls.

When I start to place the houses I zoom in and out to quite a lot to check the progress of the area I’m doing to make sure that the network of roads and houses looks natural. A good thing to think about is if the area you’re making is planned or if it has grown over time. To understand the difference in how a planned city looks compared to one that has grown over time you can look at some modern cities in USA (for example New York) and compare it to some older ones in Europe (for example Venice). The planned ones tend to have straight roads in squares and the grown ones usually have roads and city blocks in all kind of versions. At first you can’t really see any logic in the city construction, but after a while you will start to see that roads lead between squares and larger empty areas usually consist of an important building and its surroundings.

When I start to map an area I always start with the roads. First I add in some larger main roads, I then switch to a smaller road to make intersections between the larger roads. In the picture below you can see a nearly finished inner part of the city. I’m working on the last area and have put in the roads and squares. The squares I try to place in areas that feel natural. Also try to have some space between squares, a square is a place to meet and trade, so they will be evenly spread out in the city.

When I add houses to a city or town I always start by using the Random street tool. The ability to quickly add all houses on a street is one of City Designer 3’s best advantages. When you’ve added a lot of streets it isn’t always possible to use the Random street tool everywhere, in those cases I add the houses one by one. Sometimes you also have to go back after adding houses with the Random street tool and delete houses that don’t fit in for one reason or another.

When I use the Ramdom street tool I try to make the houses come as close to each other as possible. To do that you have to change the settings a bit. Right click on the Random street tool icon and in the street option window you click the Street settings button. The settings I used for the map you can see in the picture below.

The most important setting is the Distance between houses that I always set to 1, both as Min and Max value. In this way you will get the houses as close as possible togehther. The other values depend on the scale of the map that you’re doing. You have to try some different settings here and see what works out.

When you’ve added houses to all your areas in the town you are done with the central parts of your city. Don’t forget to zoom out once in a while and check that the streets look good. I often have to go back and add some more roads to make the city more crowded. In the next post we will start on the outskirts of the city, farmlands and ruins.

Making a City part 2

Ok so far we have the landscape where the city will be situated. When creating the City of the Lost I combined graphics from three different styles in City designer 3. First of all the actual landscape, which is what we have at the moment, is made in City style A, later on when I add in houses I mainly use the graphics from City style B. The reason for this is that those houses looks more painted then the one in style A that looks more 3d generated. Which one to prefer is up to you, but in the maps I do the style B graphics are better suited. In this map I’m also using some graphics from the Profantasy March annual, Jon Roberts city style. In that style I’m especially fond of the city walls and towers. However the walls in this style are a bit harder to place due to being built from a static graphic file. So you have to watch the corners because they tend to create some gaps there. A good way to hide this is to place a tower on the “bad” spot.

When I start a new town I usually always start by building the town wall and deciding where the gates will be. In this way you will get a clear view and idea on where the majority of houses will be placed, so you can plan ahead and get a good balance in the map. In this particular map we also have three different docks, one larger and two smaller ones. In older cities the docks where often situated outside the city walls. In this way you could both tax the goods efficiently when they were entering the actual city and you also didn’t need to compromise the security of the town. So I’m placing the two docks on the central island outside the walls. The small third dock however is situated in an area where you have no walls. This dock is probably used for more local trading, not taking in ships from abroad. The idea with the docks is also that they are remnants from an earlier city that has been reused. So naturally it is around the docks that the “new” city is built.

Now when we have the walls and gates of the city I put in the main roads. The logic here is that all main roads in a city usually will take you from gate A to gate B. Somewhere in between you will have some main areas like a square or a city hall etc. In this way you will also create some natural boundaries for different districts in your city. It will make it easier for you to plan the next step, adding more roads and start adding houses.