Some maps are never done

Etrakien 3 sketch

If you have followed my blog for a while you probably know that I’m on and off is working on my own fantasy setting, the Etrakien world. The world is mainly concentrating on the area around Ankh-Bathor, the world’s largest city and market place, dividing the world between east and west.

Earlier I’ve made two versions of the map for this world, but some maps just don’t seem to have a last version, so I’m now restarting the map for a third time. Why you might wonder, well the reason is actually quite simple.

Since the world is developing all the time with twists and turns the map in the end didn’t really work out with the plot. The biggest reason for this is that it felt like everything was too far away from each other, I wanted the world to be more concentrated to one are. This would open up some new possibilities in my world building, and making a new map is never something bad, that is always good.

As you can see in the sketch of the world above I’ve kept quite a lot from the older maps, actually most of the coast lines are from the earlier ones, they have only been moved around quite a lot. I also decided to have less countries then before, mainly because this will make it easier to keep track of the politics of the world. Instead I’m adding some free city states that are under their own rule, but will be in coalition with one or more countries.

I’m in no hurry to finish this map, and it is something I’m working on between commissions and some other stuff, so there might be some time between updates. But it will be a fun project to work on.

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Making a lot of maps

Eldolan
It has been rather quiet from me lately. The reason for this is that I’m doing some jobs for Pelgrane press that has occupied most of my spare time that I use for mapping.

The maps are for an upcoming 13th age adventure named Shadow over Eldolan. For this adventure I’ve made a city map (that you can see at the top of this post) and nearly ten different location maps.

The city map is made in CD3 from Profantasy using my customized style that I have developed in the program. You can see some tutorials on how to tweak CD3 to get the same result in the tutorial section of my blog. The tutorial also shows what steps I’m doing in Photoshop to get a more unique look of the map. I still think that the colours in CD3 are too bright to accomplish a satisfying result. So I correct that in Photoshop.

All the location maps are made in the new lovely style by Mike Schley that you can buy from Profantasy’s homepage. The maps are all quite different from each other and you can see an example from one of the maps below. The style was great fun to work with but as always when you use a style in CC3 there will be one or two symbols that you miss when you make a map.

Map H colour preview

Apart from the 13th age maps I’m also doing some maps for their Trail of Cthulhu game. Those maps are however done completely in Photoshop. Originally I was planning on using CC3 here, but when I got the descriptions of what kind of maps they asked for I quickly realized that none of the available styles really would work out. So I started from scratch, making something up on my own. You can see part of a map below. The aim was to make a map that had a 1930th feeling, something that could have been in an Indiana Jones film. I am very pleased with the result and I’m looking forward to see them in print. But first I need to finish all the maps.

Whistle and I’ll Come preview

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 😉

Malmö after the war

malmö zon

Sometimes you just have to make a map, the inspiration just demands that you have to do it. You can’t really wait for the next day, you can’t even go to bed until it is finished.

I got that feeling today, and I have to blame the Swedish RPG Mutant year 0 (Mutant år 0).

Last year I backed the re-release of the Swedish game Mutant. I used to play the game when I grew up and I really loved it. It is a game about the world after a big catastrophe, a nuclear war. Or at least that was the story back then in the late 80’s. By then it didn’t feel like an absolutely unrealistic future.

Anyway today I got the PDF’s of the new game in my mail box, the printed game will be released in April this year, and it looks absolutely fantastic. I haven’t read all the rules but the ones I’ve looked at looks very solid and good.

With the game there were also two really nice maps of the Stockholm area after the catastrophe. I really liked the feeling of the maps and just felt that I had to try to make one myself. Also it felt like a shame if you could only play the game in Stockholm, so I made a map of Malmö.

The map is completely made in Photoshop on my Wacom Cintiq. Not much more to say, hope you like it.

Stealing is good!

When you make a map one of the hardest, and most important things, is to get a good coastline. If the coastline isn’t believable the map wont be that either. So how do you get a good coastline. I know for sure that it is hard because this is one of the things I’ve been struggling a lot with since I started to make maps.

Well not anymore, not since I started to steal them. I mean why should I create something that I can steal? Now you might start to consider my moral judgement here, I mean you are not supposed to steal, right? But when it comes to the coastline I think we can make an exception. Of course you don’t do it from other peoples work you do it from maps of the earth.

Earth has so many coastlines and I can assure you that no one will ever see that you stole it in the first place. Just stealing a part of earth, lets say the coastline of Denmark wont work, because then everyone will recognise it, and  the magic of the map will disappear, it will just be an alternative map of Denmark and not your new fancy fantasy region.

To avoid getting caught, getting caught is bad due to the reason mentioned above, this is how I do it.

First of all I’m deciding on what type of map I want to do, for this little tutorial I’ll make a map of a coastal area with some Islands. Lets continue using Denmark as an example, the country has some really nice looking coastal areas that can be used.

Zoom in a bit on the map, I’m typically using Google maps for this, and start looking for some nice areas. When you find one make a screen capture of it and paste it in a new document in Photoshop. Continue in this way until you have a couple of different regions. Cut away all the uninteresting bits, the bits you don’t want to use. Paste all the parts you are going to use into a new document. In the picture below you can see the four different regions I’ve picked for my map.

picture01

Now when you have all your pieces in the same file it is time to arrange them together. Do this by rotating them, flipping them and so on until you get a structure that you like. At this stage you might also find out that you need an extra piece or that you have one that don’t work. I for example felt that I needed one more piece of coastline to get it right, so I stole another part of Denmark and added it in. When you are done you will have something that looks like the picture below.

picture02

Now it is time for the next step in the process, drawing.The first thing to do is to merge all the layers with maps from Google earth, then I change the opacity of the layer to 50%. Add a new layer and select the brush tool. Now it is time to sketch the actual coastline, I usually do this with a blue colour, that will make it easier to draw in the lines for real later, in black.

I try to just follow the coastline that I see in the merged map pictures, sometimes I do some small free hand changes, but most of the time I follow the real coast line. When you are done it is always good to hide the Google maps layer and look at the coast line you just made. Sometimes you now see things that looks strange, erase those and draw some new lines. I also like to add a pale blue colour to the sea/ocean, so I clearly can see what is land and what is sea in the map. Below you can see my coast line.

picture03

Well that is about it. Now it is time to maybe add in some mountains, rivers, forest, cities or what ever you want to fill your world with. When the sketch is done just select the brush you want, change colour to black and start drawing on a new layer.

Mouse Guard

Musrike

One of my favorite comics is Mouse Guard by David Petersen. Everything in the comics from art to story are done to perfection and it is a real treat to read the stories about the small mice and their adventures.

Some months ago I learned that there also is a RPG based on the books. Since it seems to be impossible to get a hold of the rules in a physical copy I had to make do with the pdf. But that worked out ok as well.

The rules in the game are very good and straight forward and quite quickly I felt that this might be something I could play with my children. I probably have to simplify the rules a bit for them, but playing as mice battling snakes and bats could make up some great stories for them.
The biggest problem though is that the game is in English, so I have to translate it for them. The first thing to do of course had to be to make a map of the Mouse Guard world in Swedish.

The map in the post I entirely made in Photoshop and is based on the original map by David Petersen. It was great fun to make and translating all the names into Swedish was a bit of a challenge.

Now I just have to convince my children that we have to play this, and of course I also have to finish simplifying the rules. Or I might just switch the rules to something that is already available in Swedish that we can use.

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.