View Full Version : How do you make maps? How do you use maps?

2015-08-31, 10:49 AM
I've been using Hexographer (because its free) but found my results are....ugly but functional. What software or methods do people use for maps? Do you put *everything* on there? (So far major settlements and terrain are all that's present on mine so I'm free to add villages and ruins and castles and whatnot where appropriate). When the players reach the next milestone on their journey I'd like to offer an improved map of the new region with some adventure opportunities already present. I've been inspired by the 'West Marches' approach of players looking at a map then pursuing a direction.

What works for you?

2015-08-31, 10:54 AM
A pencil sketch of the settlements and landmarks relevant to the adventure with roads and rivers connecting them is generally enough. In an RPG, the purpose of a map is mostly to tell you what kind of places you'll be passing through when going from A to B.
In most fantasy settings, the map the characters would have would look just like that, so really not much sense or need to make it look more like a modern land survey or satellite photo map.

2015-08-31, 12:10 PM
I still draw maps mainly by hand, using grid paper and symbols similar to old D&D hexmaps. Occasionally I switch to style closer to modern orienteering maps or use ASCII symbols. I've tried about two dozen computer programs, but short of a free CAD with good keyboard support, you won't see me using them. They're much more work for the same result.

The only other exception would be a really good random map generator a la Dwarf Fortress, Unreal World etc. Or a version of Blades of Exile allowing you to print out the tile maps.

Main use of maps is as GM's aid, as always, but you can get a lot of use out of even a crude map by giving it to players. It allows for a level of planning and spatial recognition that's absent without such measures. In sandbox-style gaming, a sufficiently large map might be the only thing you need for players to come up with stuff to do for themselves. "Hey, what's that place? Let's go to that place!"

You can also use shifting national borders on a map to give players a hint of what's happening in the wider world, a la Star Control 2.

Sadly, a lot of players are miserable about drawing and making maps on their own. Nevermind the hilarity of giving players maps made by other players.

2015-08-31, 12:34 PM
This is my favorite method, so far. (http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?t=2557)

2015-08-31, 12:43 PM
I'm currently using simple Paint. I have a hex grid, which I can lay down in whatever size I want. Then I simply add in the hexes.
I start with the terrain, usually with some vague idea of the weather pattern. Then add in rivers as appropriate, then settlements, fortifications and roads. I don't put in villages generally, but add them as they become relevant.
I make smaller maps on hexes that require more detail (around a city where there will be adventure, or in the barony the PCs are founding), but mostly the main map is what's needed.

Before then, I used a different technique. It gives a more 'organic' look, but takes much longer.

As you can see, I'm hardly an artist, which is why I prefer using a computer program. At least then I can change and re-arrange until I can stand looking at it.

2015-08-31, 01:22 PM
In real life, throughout the majority of Europe's middle ages, maps were less explanations of geography as they pertained to other geographical sites and more about the relationships of the world to the cultural zeitgeist at the time (I'll just leave it at the fact that most medieval maps put Jerusalem at the center of the world). It wasn't until large-scale sailing brought about the need for accurate maps, since until then, most people used what we'd call "hand-written directions with landmarks on them" instead of maps, considering that getting from one town to another typically rided more on whether you could keep Mt. Landmark to the north of your caravan, or that you'd already taken this route so many times you've recognized it.

As modern players (and consequently PCs), we expect maps to be territory-relationship based; that is, we tend to expect a map to not lie and to represent distances and scales accurately, but this is not often how maps were made in the past. Most of our current maps are designed bereft of most culture (though their orientation once was - note that Europe tends to be front and center in most world Atlas material), and are designed to retain particular scalar features, no matter how innacurate they might be. In many cases, when you get to the edges of a map, an event or culture-based iconography might be more preferable.

A map with few map-territory relations that requires event-knowledge to navigate.

Our map savvy as a modern society lets us pick out details like scale that we might not have been able to do even thirty years ago, but even then, we can still play with our own perceptions a bit. As roleplayers we're creative people - the most creative, if recent studies are to be believed, and sometimes that creativity can be fooled by the simplest things. I believe that this is part of our need for accurate or interesting maps, as well as robust word salads to describe what our simulacra are up to.

How big does this look compared to Oahu to you?

We can certainly take the idea of the simulacra some strange places. For the most part, when we drop one of these sterile, overhead, to-scale modern pieces of navigation down, people know what they're looking at, but maps aren't just an overland navigation tool for most cultures, they're a guide to philosophy, cultural landmarks (as opposed to physical ones), and, potentially, to enlightenment. If I told you this was a map, and handed it to the players, would you know how to interpret it?

I suspect it'd be different based on what you (or your PCs) know has been going on in the culture in which this map was produced. The same is true for cultures like the Japanese or the Mayans - old maps from both cultures look more like a summary of stories to our modern eyes than they look like routes to places, but the people in the times in which they existed could certainly find the direction easily.

In a lot of fantasy games, there are shifting boundaries, changing landscapes. You might live on the corpse of a dead god (http://orig06.deviantart.net/f710/f/2015/226/c/2/currentorcusforests_by_raygun_goth-d95onzh.jpg) or you might live on the back of a kaiju (http://orig04.deviantart.net/e351/f/2015/107/6/6/thundertownlabels_copy2_by_raygun_goth-d8q1e0p.jpg), and so your impressions and orientation are certainly different from day to day - in the astral, there is no "north." On the back of the kaiju, seasons might be part of your actual map. You might live in a world that is actually two worlds (http://orig08.deviantart.net/459e/f/2014/171/e/d/darklightworld_by_mr_author-d7n8ryl.jpg), and what you need is a series of map folios that depict entrances and exist, as well as geographical differences. Your map might not even have similarities marked down at all, since they're no longer landmarks.

The types of details I pick out for a map depend on how often I think the players or PCs might be spending somewhere. One type of map might be designed to get the players thinking like their characters so they know places they live near like the back of their hand - I feel like I've chosen the right map series once players start making up their own landmarks and why they're important. I gleefully add them to a map. Sometimes I start with only four landmarks mapped and the players and PCs immediately start in with wanting changes or "remembering" what's somewhere they wanted to be. The final result is often amazing (http://orig04.deviantart.net/5bf0/f/2015/238/0/9/mapsnumber3_by_mr_author-d97ajtq.jpg).

Visual aids are about my favorite part of being a GM - I can't stand adventures that try to describe "ovoid structures" that are made of "odd, golden floral patterns" scattered at the base with "strange metal or glass, reflective on one side and dark on the other." Even in-character, players should know what a broken mirror is and easily be able to recognize it, and so as they should for whatever it is they're walking around in, unless it's not important to the atmosphere that you're trying to convey - then use a symbol language instead. I don't do granular dungeon crawls, so most dungeon maps I make are just symbolic in nature, which is ok.

Maps are all just symbols.

2015-08-31, 05:31 PM
Keep maps as rough as possible. Only show important locations, and roughly where there are in relation to eachother. Good maps were rare and expensive after all, and this gives you room to improvise. Instead of knowing where things are, put things where the characters go. Characters wander off somewhere you didn't plan? Well good things this dungeon you had prepared for next sessions happens to be there.

2015-08-31, 06:18 PM
Currently Iíve been grabbing maps off the internets and making changes. But hereís my favorite way of creating maps:

Adobe photoshop random map generator:
1: Open a new file of any size, and make sure background and foreground colors are set to black and white.
2: create a new layer name this layer ďcontinentsĒ.
3: create a cloud effect. In my version itsí filter-render-clouds, your version may be different.
4: next kick the contrast up to 100. In my version, itís Image-adjustment-brightness/contrast. Yours may be different.
5: now you remove the white portions of the image you are looking at. There are a couple of ways to do it. to get them all select the color and delete it. In my version thatís select-color range. This brings up a mini box with an image of the image you created on it and your pointer turns into an eye dropper. click on the white bit once and hit ok. This automatically selects everything white. Then hit delete. You wonít notice a change because the background layer is still white.

Now you have a basic world fleshed out with continents and oceans. The black bits are continents, while the white bits are ocean. You can repeat the same process to create forests, mountains, countries; just about anything you really want to; all you have to do i repeat the proccess with different colors and label the new layers.

I can't stand adventures that try to describe "ovoid structures" that are made of "odd, golden floral patterns" scattered at the base with "strange metal or glass, reflective on one side and dark on the other." Even in-character, players should know what a broken mirror is and easily be able to recognize it

Totally agree. I hate it when Dms or their material gets obtuse about some mundane thing that should be easily recognizable. I actually leave most of my descriptions up to the playerís imagination. Iíll give a brief description, emphasizing important details; but Iím not going to spend 10 minutes describing the floral patterns on an unimportant dungeon feature.

2015-08-31, 06:44 PM
I usually start with a geographical map (sketched by hand, in pencil) of the area relevant to the campaign. Then I start adding demonyms or toponyms to areas in broad terms, without any specific borders. I will scale regions up or down using graph paper and/or rulers to make greater-detail maps. Only rarely do I color anything in, which is a combination of personal preference and the fact that it's a lot harder to undo coloring.

2015-08-31, 07:36 PM
I used to draw them by hand, scan them, and add color on the computer. I haven't done that in almost 10 years though. It's rare that the players care about the maps and doing them this way took forever. The last straw was when I spent four hours on a map. I gave it to the PCs and they glanced at it and then moved on. It just wasn't a worthwhile investment of my time.

If I really need a map now, I'll use the campaign book or google for something. I actually really like the google for something method because it gives me locations full of rooms and buildings I wouldn't have thought of.

2015-09-01, 04:41 AM
I'm pretty new to DMing and haven't yet run a hex-crawl or anything similar, so haven't had to make maps of big regions. For villages I'll just look for a generic rpg village map online, or just draw some squares on paper and label them.

For dungeons I don't make maps at all really, just flow-charty things. Each encounter is a node. Each transition between encounters (I.e. short bits of one-way narration by me) is a line. Viewing everything as either "encounter" or "transition" makes DMing much easier, I've found, and makes actual location maps on grid paper unnecessary.