I love hand-drawing maps. In the past, I hastily sketched maps longhand or spent hours attempting to render them using computer programs, but when I hit my forties I found a new appreciation for sitting down and really drawing a map.
I drew a lot of inspiration from Dyson’s Dodecahedron – he draws, clean, clear maps (his work’s been featured in a number of recent Dungeons & Dragons projects) and his tutorials provide solid advice for crafting maps. The one-sheeters explain his approach to building traditional top-down as well as side-view dungeon maps. I purchased both his Dyson’s Delve books for use in my campaigns (and inspiration for my own maps).
I typically don’t draw a lot of overland maps, but that started to change when I began my Spellcrash project and subsequent Scales of Truth science fantasy sandbox campaign. I found Jared Blando’s How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps to be a great help with that – it takes you through the steps for drawing continents, coastlines, mountain ranges, and other overland map features, as well as the fine details of map labeling, icons, and much more. It may sound like a dry topic, but when you’re getting lost in your own maps, it’s helpful to have a guide … and this one includes a ton of pictures!
Back in the day, I drew most of my regional and world maps using Profantasy’s Campaign Cartographer. It’s a computer-assisted design (CAD)-style program with a steep learning curve (though the current Campaign Cartographer learning curve is nowhere as steep as where I started with CC2). That’s not a knock on the program; it does what it does very well and it has a ton of resources available for it (including plenty of maps you can purchase, and thus, avoid the drawing thing entirely). But takes time to learn, and I have less of that than I used to.
My go-to program for overland mapping these days is Worldographer (aka Hexographer 2), which had a much easier learning curve and features a simpler, hex-based design that fits with Scales of Truth’s hexcrawl-based underpinnings. It’s still the sort of thing that takes time to learn, but you can be up and running with it in an afternoon or two.
Here are some map-related resources I found helpful:
- Fantastic Maps: Fantasy maps and mapmaking tutorials by Jonathan Roberts
- Dyson’s Dodecahedron: Geomorph Mapping Project: Geomorphs are random bits of maps that can be combined to quickly create dungeons. In addition to providing great examples of said geomorphs, this page includes links to a bunch of other geomorph resources.
- Mythcreants: Crafting Plausible Maps: Everyone’s looked at a map and thought “why the hell is this mountain here? it doesn’t make any sense”. Mythcreants’ post helps you avoid falling into similar traps.
- io9: 10 Rules For Making Better Fantasy Maps: More advice on map making, like “Understand how your map tells a story” and “Break out of the rectangle!”
- Geek and Sundry: Fantasy RPG Maps for Your Campaign: Links to a bunch of different map artists to inspire your game.
- Cartographer’s Guild: A community of mapmakers. Features a forum where you can get advice for drawing your own maps.
This post is part of RPG a Day 2021, a month-long celebration of role-playing games. Join the Facebook community to learn more or read other Nuketown posts in this series.
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A few of my hand-drawn maps. Credit: Ken Newquist