16 November, 2014

Worldbuilding 101 - Part 8: Mapping the World

Since a lot of people first became aware of this blog through my various mapping series, it’s only fair that I go back to a few posts regarding fantasy cartography.

Personally, I think that the presence of a convincing map can make a fantasy world something special and a bad map can beak the suspension of disbelief entirely. In this particular setting, we’re expecting most of the adventure to occur in the capital city of a central, reasonably populated island. As the game expands, it will start to encompass neighbouring towns on the island, and if it gets large enough (or if the players decide to go exploring with their characters) it might start flowing over onto other islands.

Here is the map as it currently stands.


But to be really useful for us, we need to get a bit more focus on the core town, El Puerto de Isabella. To do this, I use Photoshop to zoom in on the map I’ve drawn (on this occasion, making the map six times bigger), then I get “old school”…I lay a piece of tracing paper over the monitor and use it as a lightbox. After this, I assign the various are names I’ve come up with to different parts of the map, and add a few more interesting location ideas just in case players want to explore somewhere new, or in case the game requires additional notable locations later. That technique produces the following.



The actual drawing is quite light, so I’ve heightened the contrast on it quite dramatically to make this image easier to see on a screen. It’s rubbish and I wouldn’t give it to anyone as a finished product, but as a vague outline of what I need to work on, it does the job.

I might add a few more pubs or taverns into the map, and some notable shops, but that’s something to look at further down the track. For the moment, I start inking in the map and adding details to it. I will often open some kind of map of an area that has inspired the culture in the setting. For a pseudo-Japanese setting, I might open up a map of Nara, or Kyoto (depending in the period I’m going for). Such a map might be a satellite views from Google Maps, it might be a map from a tourist book of the city, or it might be something historical if I can get my hands on it. For this map I’ll look at the layouts of a few towns in the Caribbean, and a few Spanish towns as well. These maps give me an idea of the street layouts and the relative size of buildings that I need to be working with. Then I'll try to get my hands on some maps of Maori villages to give me a feel for the native township.

That leads me to a map like this…


There is still heaps more work to do on the map, such as inking in the various houses and other buildings. Then there will be work to do with a graphic manipulation program like photoshop, but we’re getting there.
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