Peter's Guide to Map Creation
Here is my take on creating maps for roleplaying games. Off course, you will be able to use the method for other purposes also, but why spend time doing anything, which isn't related to roleplaying:-)
To see what a map done according to my advice might look like, here is one of the maps I did (180kB).


Step 1.1
Determine how you want the world to look. Draw some loose sketches. Look in an Atlas, to find out how our world looks and copy whatever you find to be nice looking.

Step 1.2
Determine the map scale. If you want to do a World Scale map, you might consider doing maps on different sections with more details later on. This is easy to do with the help of your computer and a printer.

Step 1.3
Get access to a good drawing program. I recommend Adobe Photoshop, but you could probably also use Paint Shop Pro and get the same results.

Step 1.4
Get access to a scanner. A pencil is much easier to control than a mouse….


Step 2.1
By now, you should have a rough sketch of the map in front of you. Get a new piece of paper. Place the Atlas next to you. Find a page with a really rugged coastline. Keep that in mind. Start doing the coastline with the pencil. Put in the rivers along with the markings of mountains (but not in any detail. Just mark where you want them to be). The rivers generally flow from the mountains towards the sea, so you have to do mountains first, keeping in mind the rivers.

Step 2.2
This is very important! TAKE A BREAK! Do something else. Take a walk. Better yet, sleep!

Step 2.3
Step 2.3 - Black and White map Then, look at the map you drew. Does it still look good? If not, make corrections. If it is perfect, get a felt pen with a moderately thick end and start drawing the outline of the coast again. When the ink is dry, you can remove the pencil markings with a rubber. Draw the rivers.

Step 2.4
Since mountains is the feature I have the greatest difficulty getting just right, I've made a page to describe how I do them. If you think my mountains look silly, send me a JPG or GIF showing the mountains, you think look cool. I'll then add them to the mountains page.

Step 2.5
Review the map. Does it look good? If not, now is the time to start again without wasting too much time.

Step 2.6
Scan the map. Keep in mind, which way you are going to present the map. Do you only want to show it on-screen? If you want to print it, what is going to be the format? Do you want to use a color printer? (Remember, that color prints in large formats use a lot of ink). I generally prefer a format, which can be reduced to "light" grayscale to avoid sucking my printer dry. I still use colors however - that is what you need the printer at work forJ

If you want to make changes, you can draw with a black painbrush tool to make corrections after erasing the faulty lines.

Computer manipulation

Note: This is very Photoshop specific. Sorry about that.

Step 3.1
Step 3.1 - Outer GlowFill in the names. Hopefully, your drawing program will have function, which allows you to keep each text bit separate. Also, it is nice if your program allows text effects. I use a white "Outer Glow" to prevent the text from blending with the background.

Finishing touches

Step 4.1 (water)
Make a transparent layer (water). Use the "magic wand tool" to select all the water areas. This only works, if your coastline is "whole". There cannot be any holes if you want this to function.
Change to a strong blue color and paint the water areas. Set the opacity of the area to 10-12% when you are done.

Create a new layer (coastline). Go to the water layer.
Select the water with the "magic wand tool". Add additional watery areas by pressing "shift". Use the Select/Modify/Contract function to decrease the size of your selection by 3 pixels. Save your selection (Select/Save selection).
Select/Modify/Contract again, this time by 1 pixel only. Save this selection also. Load the previous selection. Load the 1-pixel contracted selection, but remember to "subtract" the newly loaded selection. This should leave you with a 1 pixel broad selected band 3 pixels from the coastline.
Go to the coastline layer.
Select a blue color. Paint all the selected areas. Set the opacity to 50%.

Step 4.2 (mountains and woods)
Create a new layer (mountains). Select a gray color. Set the opacity at 80%. Mouse-paint the mountains. Select a green color. Experiment until you get the right one. Mouse-paint the forest areas.

Step 4.3
Create a new layer (land). Opacity at 25%. Do the land, excluding forests and mountains. If you make the proper selections/inverse selections in advance, it's much easier to avoid the stuff you do not want to paint on.

Step 4.4
Step 4.4 - Map symbolsCreate a layer (symbols). Opacity at 100%. This is where you boost the zoom to as much as possible and do the little symbols like cities, ancient sites, etc…

Create a map for the PCs by turning off the layers, which holds information for GMs only. Be careful when you "flatten layers" to avoid destroying the layer information. DO NOT accidentally close the program, when you have flattened all layers and hit "save".

Step 4.5
You are done!

- line -

Updated on 10.7.2007
Mapmaking links
AutoRealm is a free, open-source program for creating fantasy maps.

World-building links

Mapmaking 101
Karl Musser hosts a page where Arthur describes the principles in fantasy mapmaking. You will find many useful hints on his pages. While you are there, remember to ask Karl to finish the pages he is missing:-)

© Peter Brodt
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Peter Brodt