Fantastic Maps & How to Make Them: The Details

Fantastic Maps & How to Make Them: The Details

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

Hello again my friends. I hope that you all enjoyed last week’s article on how to build your campaign and how it affects your map making decisions! This week we will start zooming in on our maps. I’ll begin with how to depict your towns/cities/villages/citadels and so on.

Say that we have come up with an awesome island, like so:

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We need to start bringing that island to life. To begin with, start marking where you would like to place any kind of settlement. Try to space them out and think about where you are placing them. Keep in mind that if you place a small town or village that is surrounded by mountains, you will need to think about why you are doing so. Normally you would like to place your capital in a convenient location as one would image that there is a lot of trade going in and out. Obviously feel free to use your imagination too. A campaign where the capital is extremely hard to get to could be very interesting – It could even be a flying citadel of some description, but be sure to make that obvious on your map!

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As you can see, I have just circled some areas that I believe would be good to place my settlements. I can still go back and add/remove some later on.

The next thing you want to start thinking about is what type of settlement they are. You don’t have to worry about naming them straight away, I know it is easy to get carried away with those kinds of details. As long as you are using a 2H pencil, you’ll find it easy to erase and rearrange where everything is going.

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In the above image, I have laid out some initial ideas. I decided to go with letters as it was very easy to look back and see what I had planned (good if you are only spending small amounts of time on your map each day).

Once you have done that, you can begin working out how to depict each type of settlement. It will need to be easy enough that your players can understand and it is also very useful to make a legend, especially if you’re colour-coding your towns for what tribe lives there or something along those lines.

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I have made some designs that show different types of symbols you can use for towns/cities etc. I have also added a crown to one to symbolise the capital. It is good practice to use the same symbols throughout your map, this makes it easier for your players to understand. However, if you wanted to get really creative, why not have two different versions of the same area? Just explain that they were different cartographers, there could be a lot of differences between the two and they could use completely different styles.

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The above image shows what your map can look like once you work through this process and it is a great way to start developing your map.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how to start evolving your map into something special and unique. Next week, we’ll start connecting things together and add some flare too! Until then, Carpe Geekum my friends!

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