Fantastic Maps & How to Make Them: Gritty vs Goofy!

Fantastic Maps & How to Make Them: Gritty vs Goofy!

An instructional, in-depth look into the worlds of fantasy cartography.
By Craig Simpson    Twitter

Hello my fellow fantasy cartographers! Last week we covered design styles of Rose Compasses, I hope you all enjoyed that because this week we are going to be talking about all the extra kind of stuff you can add to your maps to spice them up a bit.

So, there are a lot of different kind of things you can add. Most of you might be aware of placing ships in the seas of a map, as are things like sea creatures or dragon locations. You could even add a shipwreck or something like that, it would obviously depend on the history of your realm. With that in mind, try to have some kind of feel or vibe. For example, in a gritty themed campaign like Turncloaks, a map would use dark colours, maybe a sepia tone, calligraphy with a gothic script and the points of interest would be stuff like churches, hospitals etc. Where as in a goofy kind of campaign, you might see a ‘Do not enter’ sign and vibrant colours. It definitely makes a huge difference, so it is worth trying to think about during your design process. I will be showing you bits like towns, cities etc later in this series, but for now it is a general map overview.

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Here are a few designs of the type of extras you can add. I would say to use a couple of these otherwise you might start making your map look too busy. Going back to the Game of Thrones map, there is one sea monster. Have you seen it? If not, go look for it. How cool is that though, one sea monster and it could spark thousands of guesses and theories. That subtlety is exactly what I am talking about. Otherwise it’ll be like ‘Where’s Wally?’ (Where’s Waldo for you Americans).

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In the above picture I have drawn a very gritty, Turncloaks inspired map idea. As you can see, I have tried to give it a more foreboding look. The way that I did this was by using a lot more shading than I would normally do for a regular campaign. It is also very matter-of-fact, so the compass is very simple and the name has a less ‘cheesy’ feel. The last thing to note was the use of one point of interest, this makes it look like there is one major threat in the campaign and will spark more interest in it.

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In this next image, I have drawn a goofy style map. I used a bubble font. I also added a few small points of interest that are slightly more whimsical. Naming the island in a comical way also makes the campaign appear more light-hearted. Notice the border too, curves and circles will also give the map a ‘fun’ appearance. By contrast, if I had used a boxed type of approach, you could imagine that it was slightly more ‘strict’.

It is completely up to you how you wish to approach the style of map you want to make, but this will also give your players an initial impression of what the campaign might feel like.

Next week I will be doing a slightly different type of article. I will be explaining how to write a history for your realm and it will cover a lot of the things I have previously discussed with you. When you come to designing your own campaign in a new setting, you can start with either the map or history first, but one will direct the other. Think about that during the design process.

Until next week, Carpe Geekum my friends!  


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