Map creation question

edited June 2011 in General Discussion
Okay, so I have recently joined here and am in the progress of making a Campaign world. Not just a campaign but a full scale world map for it. While I dont need EVERYTHING mapped out, I do still need the most distinguishing features. Jungles, Islands, Mountain Ranges, Lakes, Oceans and so on. Anyway, I need ideas on where to start with this. I have a general idea of a town and its surrounding region but from there on out is up for debate. Any ideas would be great. If needed I can always give a small description of the current area I have made. On a side note to that, my world is HUGE. Certain parts are ancient and have buildings that span hundreds of feet across. And those are the small ones at that. Well the smaller of the big buildings. I didnt even bother putting the normal size buildings down on my current map. Anyway, ideas please! Also, I generally make my maps on paper since the cc3 program I have is insanely different then what I know of how to do (which is through paint) so any tips on programs to use or tutorials on how to use cc3 properly would also be welcome.


  • arsheesh
    Posts: 850 edited June 2011
    Hi there Daryl, first off, welcome to the Portal. Second off, what you are looking for is the "Cartographers Guild": The Guild is a friendly community whose purpose is to create and display maps, aid others and provide helpful feedback on their map creation, and in general, to promote the craft. Skill levels range from that of novice to some of the top names in the fantasy cartography industry.

    There are plenty of great tutorials on how to create maps using various kinds of software (as well as a discussions on the various kinds of software that are available for fantasy cartography). There are some CC3 users at the guild, but you can actually do some good cartography with free software out there such as "GIMP":, which is sort of a poor man's Photoshop. I used this program to do the "Maps": for my own campaign setting, in case you are interested to see the potential that this program has. What's more, while there is a learning curve, I had absolutely _NO_ experience with this program, or Phostoshop, or any mapping software for that matter, before I joined the Guild a little over a year ago. But due to the aid of some friendly people over there and some wonderful tutorials (as well as some experimentation of my own), I was able to create these maps. So if an inexperienced guy like I can do it, you can too (course I'm more experienced now).

    You will need to create an account at the Guild (it's free) to be able to access the tutorials there. My recommendation is to introduce yourself (in the Member Introduction's Section) and upload your current WIPs to show where you are at. People there will be able to answer pretty much any map-related question you have, and direct you to the tools you will need to accomplish your goals.

    Post edited by arsheesh on
  • Deadseid
    Posts: 14
    Hi Daryl. I've been making maps for a long time, and I think I may be able to provide some insight. First off, I see you have CC3. Campaign Cartographer is an amazing tool that has taken my map making to a near professional level. I strongly encourage you to seek out Joseph Sweeny's video tutorials for help learning the program. However, CC3 functions best as a tool to make an existing map look great, and not so much as a method of developing your world from scratch.

    Before you get too wrapped up in CC3 or any other map making software, you should have a basic idea of what your world will look like. On a large piece of paper, sketch out the shapes of your continents and determine what your land to water ratio will be. You don't have to be an artist, especially if you will be making the final draft in CC3 or Gimp or whatever, but it helps to have a concrete idea of the shape your world will take. The next thing you should do is populate the continents with a few rivers, mountain ranges, and lakes. You don't have to go crazy, as more can be added later. Finally, add a scale that shows the distance per inch.

    At this point, I like to decide where the political borders of the nations and regions will be. Borders can be abstract shapes that you freehand wherever you like, but realistically, borders tend to fall along the lines of major landmarks such as along mountain ranges and rivers. Don't worry about naming the countries or assigning governments just yet. It is quite easy to get overwhelmed if you try to develop too much too fast.

    Remember that town and surrounding area you said you had an idea about? Now is the time to find a home for it. Put it anywhere on the map you think it will fit, but remember a few guidelines. Communities do not just spring up in any old place. People gather in places for a reason. Perhaps there is a valuable mineral commodity in the area. Perhaps the local game runs free and plentiful. Perhaps the fishing in this region is spectacular. Consider why people gathered here as you decide where to place your town. And remember, people need water, so your town will likely need to be placed near a river, or where the water table is high.

    Now that your town is is place, develop the area immediately around it. You said you already had a good idea, so go at it. Draw in some forests, streams, ponds, hills, and marshes. Plot out a few point of interest that you plan on mapping later such as forts, ruins, caverns, mines, and monster lairs. Figure out what kind of government your town has and decide if they answer to a higher authority like a King or religious leader. To get ideas about government types, try this link:

    Now it may seem like you have a long way to go, especially if your world is as big as you say. And believe me, you do have quite a bit more to do, but there is a secret that I will pass on to you. No one ever finishes their world before they start running the game. You don't need to. In fact, it is better if you don't and I'll tell you why. If you have done everything above, you should have enough of the basic foundations of your world to start writing a story for your players. The story you come up with, the direction you decide you want the game to take, will dictate which part of your map you will develop next. This method is tried and true, and has the amazing side effect of actually making the world more tangible to players. Let them help you shape your world. They won't know they're doing it, but it will take a lot of work off your hands. Ask them questions as an NPC about their character's history. What? The barbarian hails from a small tribal village in the mountains? Add it to your map. Find a place for it, and show the player where his character is from. If the story takes a turn to that place, develop it further.

    There is no need to take on more than is necessary. It could take years, or several different campaigns to flesh out your world completely. Take a look at my world map for the Land of Corra. I have been developing that world for over 10 years with 3 different campaigns. Now understand that that world is only about 30-40% developed. My world map is still about 50% blank after all these years. I could take some time and throw something together in that space, but I would much rather wait until the story takes us there. Then I don't have to worry about the things I want to include in the story matching up with the map, because I have a blank slate to make the map match the story.
  • Deadseid
    Posts: 14
    Once you have a thriving vibrant world rife with places and character, you can begin thinking about the finer details, like which lands are rich in which commodities, and which nations are allies or bitter rivals. But even these things can be added item by item slowly over the course of the campaign. This is the way I've done it for years, and its a good thing. If I tried to complete my whole world before i started, I would probably still be working on it all these years later. I hope this helps, and when it comes time to upgrade your rough sketch to a pro piece of fantasy art, CC3 is one of the finest tools you can use. For more tips on mapmaking, you REALLY need to check out Cartographer's Guild like Arsheesh said. They have a lot of amazing resources that should help as well. Good luck!
  • cgregory
    Posts: 780 edited June 2011
    Rich Burlew wrote an interesting article on the building of a campaign world.

    "Campaign World Building":

    You might find it of some use.
    Post edited by cgregory on

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  • floridafayboy
    Posts: 13
    I dabbled in from scratch map making. I made a cool underground city of the dwarves at great detail. Then of course that entire group had a falling out and it sits unfinished.

    My point is, make sure your doing the right amount of work for your players. Not that you can't do enough, just that sometimes, life takes a turn.

    I use all premade maps now except for my dungeons. The maps are the main reason I adopted forgotten realms as my setting. Definately agree on Cartographer's Guild, that site is top notch.

    Best of luck to you!
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