Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Last time, we grabbed a suitable starting image for our map and focused in on selecting a particular sub-region of that particular planetary map (again, we're following the microcosmic path outlined in the previous article). Now that we have our starting point, we can import the image into Photoshop (or GIMP – a freeware analog of Photoshop) to make some adjustments that will give us a more aesthetically pleasing final result.

To start with, open the map in Photoshop (I use CS3, but any version will do, as long as it isn't too ancient (back to CS should be fine)). If you are using an image from the fractal generator I provided a link for last time, it gives you a .gif file, which is fine as far as image quality goes, but it provides one minor hiccup when importing to photoshop – the file is initially locked into indexed color, which, in short, means you can't make any edits until you switch modes. It's easy enough to fix though; just go to Image > Mode > and select either CMYK color or RGB color. It's really your choice as to which mode you select, and it depends on what your end-goal as far as media is. Choose CMYK if you're going to be doing printing (if you're not familiar with the printing parlance, CMYK optimizes the pixels for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black ink, which are the colors used by pretty much any standard printing device). If you're planning on just viewing the image on your computer or another device, go with RGB – which optimizes the pixels for being displayed electronically (screens and monitors use a combination of Red, Green and Blue pixels to simulate any particular color). I usually go with CMYK because it's likely that I'll be both printing the map and referencing it electronically. Note that putting something in CMYK format has almost no impact on the image's quality on-screen (it's debatable if CMYK is superior for this reason or not, but I think it gives it a strong advantage).

Now, my personal preferences for maps gravitate to a more “Age of Exploration” aesthetic – so lots of warm tones with a weathered-parchment kind of charm. To start, the brilliant blue tones and the pronounced greens on the original image are a bit of a deviation from the more stylized end-result, so I'm going to alter those significantly, starting with the bodies of water on the map. Fortunately, using the Atlas map palette originally makes these colors as muted as possible initially and will expedite the modifications. To get rid of the distracting blues, I start off using Photoshop's “Screen” tool, which will significantly brighten the colors that you overlay it on. Set the brush size to a setting that you're comfortable with (I set mine to a soft brush, 40px in diameter) and trace along the edges of the continents/landmasses at first. You'll notice that the blue quickly becomes white. Try not to glance back over areas a second time, as that will start to essentially erase the outline of the land that we want to preserve. After tracing the edges of the land, go back in and fill in the large open swathes of water until it's all white. After this is done, you can go to Select > Color Range > and click on the white area of the image (which will select the entirety of your bodies of water); now we've easily divided our image into two discretely editable elements: land and water. While the white is selected, you can hit the delete key, leaving you with only the land. Beneath this layer, I'll create another layer and fill (Edit > Fill) it with white, allowing me to make sure that any adjustments I make to the land doesn't effect the water and vice-versa.

Now, before deselecting the area of the image just deleted, go to Select > Inverse, which will select the entire landmass of the image. As I mentioned earlier, the colors in general are a bit of an annoyance to me, so I also want to the land colors while preserving the shifts in color tones from the original image. So, I created a new layer above the (1) landmass layer and (2) the white layer and Edit > Fill it with a warmer color (Hexadecimal: c08f1d) and drop the opacity to 40% (which will let the varied tones underneath shine through a bit).

Here's what we have so far (the layers are visible so you can see how everything is arranged at this point.

So, we have the makings of a decent map at this point. If you like things to have a more “illustrated” look, you can give the landmasses some lines by selecting the “landmass” layer and going to Edit > Stroke and selecting the color and line weight of your choice (black and 3px should be adequate – I would recommend dropping the opacity around to 85% and setting it to “Inside”; you might need to clean up some errant lines, depending on the location of your land and if you missed any spots while Screening; protip - it's probably going to happen, so prepare yourself!). You can also run a Gaussian Blur filter over the landmass layer (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur (set for 0.5px). I personally don't see much of a need to do this entire step (although it does look cool), but if you want your land to have clearly articulated perimeters/outlines, then it's an easy step to perform. I find doing this gives the map a kind of inky quality that may or may not be palatable to you. As I said, the step's optional – so disregard it if you feel you like it better without the outline.

Before we continue any further, something we need to address for our new world's map is the issue of scale. Fortunately, since we're building outward from a specific section of the world map, setting scale now is a task of relative ease and will make the DM's life a little bit easier in the future (a very, very small, little bit). Where do we begin, you ask? If you hit Ctrl+H, a helpful little set of gridlines will appear over your map, with each small square corresponding to 0.25” x 0.25”. There are also larger squares that are articulated which point out 1” x 1” increments. Both are helpful with figuring just how much surface area you have to work with here and what kind of “cartographic resolution” you want, so to speak.

If we start too small and say 0.25” = 1 mile, then we have a kind of oddly small continental region here, especially if it's supposed to represent two or three (or at least parts of two or three) nations. It would be kind of ridiculous to find that the Kingdom of Alcoron is only 13 miles wide from the outermost Western and Eastern boundaries after all. Granted, if we said each 1” represents 100 miles then we've encountered the opposite problem, which is too high of spatial resolution – we won't be able to articulate one town from the next on the map because they will be located mere pixels from one another. Although, that scale does fit more nicely to the typical land holdings of a kingdom (several hundred miles from border to border). Looking at a map of Anglo-Saxon England (the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy), we find that an island with a surface area of 50,000 square miles was essentially divided into several kingdoms that were not much larger than something we might consider a county nowadays (or a very small state). Following that route, and assuming our total land was a perfect square (and divided evenly among seven kingdoms), we can average the area of each kingdom at ~7142 square miles (50,000mi/7) and approximate the dimensions of each kingdom at 84mi x 84mi. Granted, that is a gross oversimplification, but the approximation is key. If we had three kingdoms, following the same logic, we'd have ~16,000 square miles/kingdom at dimensions of 129mi x 129mi.

The table for Overland Movement on the Pathfinder SRD stipulates that individuals with a base speed of 30ft (typical for the standard, medium-sized PC races) can travel up to 24miles overland per day.

So, if we had a kingdom that was 130mi – 150mi from its neighbors, then we could expect any players in the game (without a mount or magical transportation) to take roughly 5.4 – 6.25 days (depending on any encounters, dungeon crawls or other mishaps (ie. Weather, terrain (fording the river, anyone?), disease etc.). That seems like a fair distance (about a week's journey to reach another country, maybe a day or two by horseback), especially as it's likely that these adjacent kingdoms have some sort of common history as provinces of a defunct Empire or some predecessor state.

There might be some holes in this methodology, but I find that it works mainly as it is a flexible approximation (these aren't real worlds, so we can't expect to have scientific accuracy for any of these details; and bottom-line, this is meant to be fun on the whole. At any point, if you get frustrated and bogged down by the effort, I have one word for you: simplify).

Examining my map, I count the measured distance from the upper-left corner to the edge of the unnamed sea that appear just right of the upper-center of the map and see that it's 7.5”. I decide that I'd like to see what a 0.25” = 10mi scale provides. 7.5” is 30 0.25” increments, which gives us a span of 300mi from upmost Northwest to the fringe of the sea. It also means that the sea itself runs about 120 miles to the south (making it worthy of the name sea, rather than lake). Referring back to the Overland calculations made earlier, this means that to achieve those distances, my nations will probably be placed approximately 3-5” from one another. This will, of course, depend entirely on the placement of major geographical features.

Now, to finish this part of the series, we'll start to plan where our major mountain ranges, rivers and forested regions will be. Rivers are essential because they dictate where most settled locations will be (given a medieval-era level of agriculture and maybe the presence of crude aqueducts and irrigation). They will flow from the points of highest elevation till they terminate at either a sea, lake or the ocean (or disappear underground). Mountains themselves represent areas of tectonic activity (I'm no geologist, so I apologize for any slight (or glaring) inaccuracies), specifically where plates have collided. Since our map gives us no idea what kind of elevations we're working with, we're pretty much left to our own devices, which is fine. It's a creative endeavor, so who says we can't dictate how the world works? If anything, after assigning the locations of the rivers and mountain ranges, we can generally approximate the changes in elevation from region to region.

I start with the mountains. I try to keep in mind that peninsulas usually represent a point where areas of higher latitude converge (ie. Peaks of mountains an by extension, mountain ranges), and there are three interesting peninsulas that I identified on the map (in green) that I think will create engaging boundaries and seem like natural loci for the mountain ranges. The mountain ranges themselves are represented in red, and I think they begin to lay the framework for several discrete areas for the eventual kingdoms. I don't want this part of the world to be riddled with rivers, particularly the desertified area that is most prominently located in the center/lower-right part of the map (maybe that country relies on wellsprings and drilling for water – or maybe they have some of the aforementioned crude aqueducts. In fact, it would be pretty cool if that country had aqueducts that brought water from the Unnamed Sea in the North all the way to their most arid locales in the South (granted, that would mean these are far from crude aqueducts, but the point stands). So, I look for a few solid river arteries that can provide serviceable trade routes and boundaries. Those will be the first major geographical features. Next time, I'll figure out where the forested regions are and we'll start getting some of the specifics of civilization figured out.

Oh, and we have a name for our fledgling world: Dragonsgate. Cheesy, canonical and of course, capable of inducing seizures in any hardcore fantasy fan.


  1. The upper right peninsula is topographically reminiscent of Scandinavia, with Denmark being the place highlighted, though the climate here would be more like Turkey.

    There is only one answer: Ottoman vikings.