Etrakien revisited

armadien ankh bathor 3

I think we all carry a world inside of us, a world that sometimes just wants to get out and have its story told. For me that world is the Etrakien world. I think I must have been working on and off on it for about 15 years now. I have bits and pieces of it spread around in notebooks, papers and maps. Mostly maps I must admit.

It is so easy to drown in your own creation, one thing leads to another and suddenly you are trying to describe a world so vast that it is impossible to get it all down on paper. Things start to contradict each other and quite soon you are losing control of it all. For me it has been a challenge to try to narrow down my world to a size that is manageable. This whole process has of course forced me to rebuild the world more than once, I’m probably on version three or four now, since I started out.

At the top of this post you see the latest version of the map of the Etrakien world. So what is different in this version compared to the other versions of the map? And why have I decided to do the changes that I have made?

Well first of all I’ve decided to concentrate the development of the world to a smaller area. Before I tried to focus on the whole world but the task soon got a bit overwhelming. And since most of the ideas I have are concentrated around the city Ankh-Bathor and its neighboring states I figured it would be a good idea to make a new map with this area in focus, a map which I can use while continuing the work on my world. Or at least a map I can use until I decide to make a new map again.

So what is the Etrakien world? As I wrote before I’ve been working on the world for almost 15 years. That might sound like a lot, but it hasn’t really been a straight road of work, Sometimes I haven’t worked on it for months, or maybe a year. But for some reason I always come back to it, I kind of like having a world of my own to discover and develop.

The world itself is a Fantasy world where humans are the dominating race, there are other humanoid species as well but they are mainly concentrated to smaller areas in the outskirts. In the world you have the civilized area where you have kingdoms, empires and great cities. Outside the civilized area you have the wilderness, vast forests, great deserts and enormous mountains. Here you can find ruins of past civilizations, mythical creatures and barbarian tribes.

The kingdoms and empires of today are all built upon a world of ruins from an earlier civilization that was destroyed during the war with the gods. This happened a long time ago and today the memories of this time is long gone, only the ruins remains, and the scars in the fabric of the world. Scars that in some areas tend to break, opening a gateway to the other side, the borderlands.

After the war of the gods the world was on the brink of total destruction, but humanity survived and slowly started to rise again, creating a new world in which the darkness of the past only lived on as children’s stories. This new world would be dominated by the Etrakien Empire for hundreds of years. But when the Empire was on its height of power the black plague started to spread, in which nearly half of the world’s population died. This caused the Empire to collapse and from its former domains many smaller kingdoms arose. The Empire itself does still exist but is only a shadow of its former strength, affected by civil war and corruption.

So that is the Etrakien world, a world of adventure, corruption and war. And hopefully one day I can have it finished, but I doubt that will ever happen. It tends to have a life of its own.

Making a lot of maps

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

Turning my children into monsters

At the moment I’m working on a commission for the RPG 13th age from Pelgrane press. It is a fun commission that includes both a city map and quite many location maps.

One of the challenges in the commission is to add in symbols for characters and monsters. These are supposed to be from a top down perspective. Which is quite obvious if you want them to work with the maps.

Well I must admit that making symbols of characters from a top down perspective isn’t the easiest thing to do. Luckily for me I have three children that gladly wants to help their dad out. So they quickly assembled all the swords, helmets and other necessary things from their play room while I collected a camera and a stair for me to climb up on while photographing.

We actually had a great time while they pretended to be orcs, witches, guards, zombies and dead adventurers. Later on I used the pictures to be able to draw the symbols on my computer, like the one at the top of this post.

Next step will probably be to collect all their toy animals and start photographing them as well, who doesn’t need a horse, Cow or a dinosaur in their map 🙂

Skull Island

skull island2

Earlier this year Profantasy ran a competition where you had to create a map of an island, less than three miles wide. The competition ended in March and the map at the top of this post was my entry.

I saw the competition as a perfect way of trying out some new brushes that I had acquired, and also a good way of getting some training of making a free hand drawing using my Cintiq. The map itself is supposed to look like a worn pirate’s map that will lead you to the location of the treasure, if you can avoid all the dangers that are plotted out.

Everything is made in Photoshop and I had a great time making the map. Of course there are always things you can improve but overall I’m quite pleased with the end result, even though I didn’t win. But that wasn’t the important thing here, the important thing was to have fun and do some mapping. I will definitely make more free hand maps in the future, because it really is great fun to do them.

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.

Cleaning an old book

book 01
The last couple of weeks I’ve found out that the British library have started to share scans of old manuscripts. First of all this is great from a historical point of view, but secondly it is a gold mine for me as a cartographer. A lot of those scans are absolutely perfect to use as backgrounds for maps. And they are all free to use.

However all of the pages are covered with more or less areas of text. So to be able to use them as a background for a map I first had to clean the book pages so that they appeared to be blank.

I located a scan that wasn’t too covered in text (see picture at the top of this post), so I could start cleaning it. The easiest way of removing the text is to use the patch tool in Photoshop.

To do that, do as follows. First open your picture of the scan and select the patch tool. With the Patch tool you mark out an area with text, not too big. Find a place on the page where there is no text and drag the selection you just made with the patch tool to the empty area and release the left mouse button. The area with the text will now be blank. Continue in this way until the whole page is blank.

The end result will look like the picture below.
book 01 cleaned

Now when you have one side of the book you might also want two sides next to each other, so it looks like an open book. To do this you extend the canvas (image\Canvas size) so it is twice as wide as before. Then copy the layer with the book page and flip the new page horizontally (Edit\Transform\Flip horizontal). Then it is just a matter of making the two pages fit next to each other. It can be a bit fiddly and you have to erase some areas. When you are satisfied with the result just flatten the image. If some areas still look strange or if the pages look too similar next to each other, just use the patch tool again to remove those areas.

When the pages are done it will look something like the picture below.
book 01 cleaned full

Feel free to use the images attached in this post however you wish, after all they are not really mine. Or head over to the British library and get some scans of your own.

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.


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.


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.


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.