Continuing in my exploration of cartography and topography, I’m finding that with mountains, it’s hard to not get them too large and take over the whole map. My second map effort end up with huge mountains and awkward buildings. I didn’t have the book in front of me to follow along with, so it’s not quite as put-together looking as the first effort.
Also those buildings are just killing me. They need to be tiny to fit proportionately on these 8-1/2″ x 11″ sheets, but I haven’t mastered that sort of fine detail with the pencils I’m using. Truth be told, I’ve abandoned this sad effort.
So some practice sketching mountains, trying to follow predetermined paths
Still haven’t quite gotten the hang of mountains in proportion to the rest of the maps, but that’s what practice is for, right?
Taking a short (indeterminent) break from the Dreadstorm Campaign and indulging in hand-drawn map making fun. I’ve really been enjoying learning how to draw the classic style of land maps with tutoring from Mr. Blando’s book, How to Draw Fantasy Art & RPG Maps. This is the same book I mentioned in my prior post, Castle with “Moat Dragon”.
When I started the map I felt pretty silly and thought it would look pretty dumb, but was pleasantly surprised by the final outcome.
Map Sketch Process
Map Sketch Pic #1 – Establishing the continent shape and islands
Map Sketch Pic #2 – Penciling in some mountains.
Map Sketch Pic #3 – Mountain details
Map Sketch Pic #4 – Let there be hills to hug those mountains
Map Sketch Pic #5 – Adding in some rivers and coastline
Map Sketch Pic #6 – Forests
Map Sketch Pic #7 – Final-ish version
I wasn’t brave enough to try adding cities and lettering to this one. I felt this was a good place to stop. For a first effort, I thought it turned out kinda cool.
Things I learned
Mountains are hard
Leave room for more than just mountains
I drag my hand all of the page, making a smeary mess
I need to do a better job of erasing lines
Maybe trees in a forest don’t need to be quite so compressed together
I should probably try to plan the whole map out ahead of time. But who am I kidding. I’m not a planner. I like to do things organically and see where they end up!
I downloaded GIMP, a free & open source image editor, so I can work on coloring maps, and probably the lettering. I’m still figuring out how to deprogram my brain from thinking in Photoshop terms and learn how things work there. My muscle memory is surprisingly strong from all my many past years of using Photoshop. I find my self doing keyboard and mouse shortcuts that don’t really work with GIMP. I can’t tell you how many times I hit CTRL+D to unselect and got a duplicate file instead.
I like the idea of being able to use layers. With pencil sketching, drawing something on top of something else, like trees over a river, that erased bit is gone for good. Not just masked out. Huh. I think working digitally has gotten me a bit lazy and spoiled.
The above images were in no way modified in GIMP or Photoshop.
Getting back into sketching has been fun. I’ve been wanting to create hand drawn maps, but didn’t really have a lot of guidance on method or cartography standards. I found a review on the book How to Draw Fantasy Art & RPG Mapsand was excited by the step-by-step imagery. The book was just what I wanted!
I started by playing around with the basic castle designs, because, really, it was just fun. I posted it on Facebook and was informed by my mother that it need a moat and by my friend Molly that it need a moat dragon.
The original effort didn’t really have a lot of room for moats and the like, so on my lunch break, I pulled out my little sketchbook and sketched out a castle with a moat and a dragon just for those two.
Once I posted the requested castle, another friend wanted to know how the castle stayed afloat on the water. So when I got home from work, I cleaned up some of the messier bits on the sketch, added an island and worked in some minor shading. Ha! That’ll show em, I thought as I posted the newer reversion!
And then I’m staring at this little sketch thinking, “It needs a border!” I didn’t really have space for the full on borders like the ones the author demonstrated in the book, but on the sides I could work something.
And so the final version has a fancy-smancy border … and I think that’s a rat on the drawbridge …
Basic Castle Sketch
A pencil sketch of a castle with a moat and a dragon. I took this picture in my car. I find the color difference light on the paper makes fascinating.)
An improved sketch of castle on land with a moat, drawbridge, dragon
Mostly it was a delight to pull out my old pencil sets and erasers and other drawing goodies and play around. But now I’m moving onto an actual map … whoohoo!
Humans are strange. I just like to add my bit into the mix.
I do find that this sort of doodling keep me occupied and out of trouble when I’m in long stretches of sit-and-by-quiet times like long boring meetings, plane rides, or when other players are doing some intense role playing that I need to stay out of (which is amazingly harder than you’d think!). Also, I’ve found these random squiggles make for some interesting background textures.
What is it this time?!
A pattern marked on clothing of a secret sect of druids bent on destroying unnatural buildings and walls that dare defy mother nature?
A wicked bard’s gloves hypnotize his audience with ever sweep and gesture of his hands, making them susceptible to his suggestions?
To enter the Chamber of Knowledge, first you must solve this puzzle? Is there a solution to this puzzle? Maybe the answer is not all puzzles must be answered. That the search for knowledge and truth is where true enlightenment follows.
The Dungeon of Dori is an idea percolating in my head for a Dungeons & Dragons session (could be used for any RPG, really). This is the initial sketch of the dungeon/castle/place-to-cause-mayhem including hidden doors and a huge slime monster … or maybe a water feature … who knows?!
I picture a drab, gray stone castle with odd nooks on the outside, leading visitors to think they’ve found an entrance only to find it’s an architectural feature of the insane Dori. There are a couple of exterior doors, which are hidden … naturally (the squiggly lines are hidden doors). Even the interior is full of hidden doors, which make for quicker movement for those who are familiar with the interior.
The inside is dark and cold, with a constant echo of dripping water. I also like the idea that the filled in areas area actually pillars hiding secrets inside of them.
And Traps? Oh yes. How could the insane Dori not have wicked traps?!
This is definitely more doodle than maze or map for Dungeons & Dragons. If this was an underground labyrinth of tunnels, it would take FOREVER to get through it. Unless you had some clever way to cut through it. One of my favorite things to do with these silly doodles is to image how I would use them in a D&D game.
Worms. Big Worms.
In my mind I see this as underground tunnels burrowed by huge worms with no particular direction except to keep moving and eating. Do they sense food moving nearby? A new tunnel is created as the worm dives for it’s food! Yum. Adventurers are tasty.
Why would anyone want to go down into these crazy, constantly changing tunnels? What prize could possibly hope to find?! Perhaps the skins shed by these beasts is used to create the most exquisite material far superior to even that of elven-make that is used to make the most visually stunning, supple and strong of armor. Even a monk could wear armor made from this cloth an gain an Armor Class bonus without taking penalties or disadvantages. Probably worth a pretty penny to the right buyer!
I found myself alone with grid paper and idle time back in October 2016. I couldn’t help but want to start creating a maze-like dungeons, possibly reliving some of my 80s childhood at the same time. While sketching, I imaged dimly lit stone hallways with sweaty, slimy walls. And secret doors. Clever traps. Wondering monsters. The big baddie waiting in the center for the big showdown. And marvelous treasures!
It occurred to me that I’m always looking for maps to snag for my game, so it occurred to me that I should share what I’ve made too. Here’s a result of that particular compulsive sketching, available for noncommercial reuse to the interwebs: maze-with grid [PDF version]
For those of you who prefer computer generated maps, with or without a grid, Donjon’s Random Dungeon Generator is a really awesome, free tool for making random dungeons. Along with detailed maps of varying sized and shapes based on your selections, the generator creates encounters for the party size and level you need in your chosen environment.
I will caution that for a 1st level dungeon, DCs (Difficulty Classes) of 20, 25, and 30 felt really unrealistic if you want your first level players to have a chance of success. So read over the included encounters and modify as you see fit.
October 21, 2016 – This is what happens when grid paper is left in front of a designer. Doodles. Doodles that look like potential dungeon maps. Muwahaha. There is something wonderfully satisfying about filling up a page with doodling.