In the first part of this series, I talked about some of the thought that went into the design of my new Dungeon World campaign, which kicks off tomorrow. Today, I want to talk about creating a starting map, the base location for the adventures that begin tomorrow. For me, creating the map always invokes new and improved ideas for the world itself. It’s a vital part of the process.
I’ll first note that I’m using Photoshop. There are plenty of other alternatives, and many who would say a raster based format is better. But, I’ve used Photoshop for longer than some of you have been alive, and that’s the tool I’m most comfortable with for this type of work. I’m creating this first map as a CYMK document 24″ by 36″ for printing on a vinyl banner at an office supply store. The vinyl will allow me to annotate it during games with a dry-erase marker. I can then scale and reformat it for presentation on the web and printing on paper.
The process starts with what I already know about Gondgul. The city is basically an island in the mouth of a river, attached to either side only by bridges. The top of the island is basically sloped upward from the northern edge toward the southern side facing the sea. On the eastern side of the island is a small natural harbor. There need to be roads leading from the bridges around the circumference of the island and down to the port. There is a ruined lighthouse somewhere on a southern high point.
In Photoshop, I’m going to create a lot of layers, so to keep things organized, I create folder groups. Groups for labels, basic geography, roads, dwarven structures, Pharazanic structures, and for buildings constructed by the Exiles. The bottom layer is Base Water, where I can show the river water, swamps and the ocean. Later, I’ll go back and beautify those a bit, but for now, it’s just blue-green. For the land cover, I’m going to rough out the very basic dimensions of the island and the land on either side. Nothing fancy here, just a shape. I’m using a smaller brush to give the coastlines some distinctions, and to carve out a harbor area. I also want to make the coast line look less lumpy with a more fractal edge, so I’m erasing along the edges with a dynamic brush that randomly changes (and is beyond the scope of this article to explain, sorry). Next, I’m going to add height layers. I’ll use three shades of light gray to indicate the low, medium and high parts of the island. When I’m done, a light stroke and a drop shadow will make these areas pop out a bit.
Now I want to add the roads. It will be a lot easier to add the buildings next to the roads than it would be to draw the roads in between the buildings. I’ll also add the bridges in this step, including an ancient one that collapsed or was destroyed some time in the past. For the purposes of this map, the main roads are a light brown color with some texture in them. Smaller roads are a lighter shade. Where roads meet, I’ll create a small area around them, for market areas. Both are stroked to give them some outline. The goal when drawing the roads is to make them look like natural paths that are affected by the terrain and built up over time. I don’t know if I actually succeeded with that, but I like the result I have so far.
Okay, so onto some buildings. I’m not going to draw every building in the city, at least not yet. What I want to put down on the map now is important landmark locations. I know I need a ruined lighthouse, and that’s going on the southwest corner of the island. I’ll also add a Dwarven Temple near the docks, now used as a merchant warehouse, and some sort of Dwarven citadel looking out over the eastern edge of the island. At this point, I’ll also draw in piers along the docks. Note that any sense of scale is simply implied.
Just for a change of pace, I give the outlying areas of land some color, and drop some trees down, using a scatter brush.
There’s still a lot to do, but unfortunately, my map making time is up for the day. I still have more prep work to do for tomorrow’s game, but this map will probably have to stand as least as tomorrow goes.