Monday, January 21, 2013


In this post, we're going to get the forests and mountains (actual mountains) added to the map and start discussing the climates in the regions of the world as well as start thinking about the specific biomes represented in these areas.

For forests, I usually use a brush with a spatter appearance (I've included a screenshot below with the pixel size highly exaggerated to give you a better glimpse of the specific type). I find that using a brush size of about 30px is appropriate, though to get the best effect, using a variation of brush sizes in the forest is ideal (hint: using the [ and  ] keys is a shortcut for decreasing and increasing the pixel size of your brush, respectively).

As for the placement of forests in the world, I don't have a clear understanding of the wind circulations for the planet (there's not enough information about our planet to determine the coriolis forces acting on the atmosphere), but because I know that this region of the planet isn't too close to the equator, it's a safe bet to say that there will be at least periodic winds coming across this landmass. Therefore, it's important to pay attention to the rivers and the mountains that I've arranged so far, because the mountains will determine the severity of any rain shadow effects (see the link below), and while not all rivers would encourage significant tree growth along their course, some definitely will (just think of the Amazon River).

That in mind, I decide that I would like to see a coastal forest in the Northwestern region, just to the West of the mountain range there and abutting the river that runs from the north to the ocean there. Additionally, I know that I would like a temperate forest to sit at the fringes of the desert region in the southern-central part of the map, so I brush that area in. I realize that it might be difficult (biologically) to explain the presence of the forest there, but as this is a fantasy world, some liberties can be taken. Maybe it's magical. I've already been tossing around the idea of a realm that acts as a sort of Casablanca for feys that have been displaced from their native plane of Faerie. It could be fun working in some sort of mechanic later as to perhaps how the forest is magically sustained by dryads or nymphs or somesuch. There's also a decent river that runs from the East to a pair of smallish lakes just south of the large sea. I decide that I like the idea of strong winds funneling through the gap between the two mountain ranges that converge at those two lakes, and as such, it seems like a good idea to have a high altitude forest here, fed by the winds blowing over the sea and the lakes and the river that courses past it – in fact, I think this might be an alpine plateau (possibly), but that remains to be seen. Later, I'll figure out the specifics of the climatic zones. For now, I dot in some other forested regions here and there, mainly just to add some points of interest in other zones. Some of these small forested regions might harbor specific details that will be worked out later in the design process on the whole.

To finish with the forests, I add a black stroke to the outside of the contents of the layer. Set it to 3px and to an opacity of 75%. This will give the spatter pattern put down earlier a nice shadowy, layered look that looks pretty nice, in my opinion.

Now, returning to the mountain ranges, I'll use a triangular shaped brush to represent the mountains. You can also paint divergent lines from the lines we drew before (the ones representing the highest altitude along the range) which would simulate the wrinkly look mountains have when viewed through a satellite image. Given that the whole purpose of the map is to look somewhat more antiquated, it would defeat the point to use a method that would end up presenting the map as more modern. So, for my map, I stick with representing mountains as triangles of different sizes. It's a little inaccurate, but it works. For the brush, I use a smattering of sizes, with the largest triangles following the line representing the highest altitude and with smaller triangles clustered around this main line. I don't want the area to be saturated with mountains, so these ranges are relatively “sparse”.

After the mountains are in, I'll go back and delete the red guidelines I drew in before. You can also add a stroke at 3 px and 85% to the mountains – it helps tie the whole image togeher, as we've added a lot of pseudo-inky looking qualities to the map so far.

Before moving on to anything else, I think it's about time to at least add a little color to the ocean/seas, if anything just to tie the image together better. I change the white layer to hex 9ba997, which gives it a brownish blue coloration that fits with the Age of Exploration thing we have going on here.

Now, on to climates. As mentioned before, the southern-central area is a desert. I don't think the entire area is one rolling sea of dunes or anything along those lines, and there will definitely be a gradation between the aridity of the biome. I'm thinking that it will be a rocky desert toward the center with a cluster of more Mediterranean Chapparal regions clustered around the periphery. Temperatures in this area will be more mild and temperate, whereas the climate will be more severe and hot in the center. I'd like one of the countries in this land to be pseudo-Iberian, so this will work out nicely. With one major area hashed out, that really only leaves the northwestern region, the eastern region and the northeastern regions unresolved.

Our map is approximately 10in by 14in (landscape orientation), so, with our established scale in mind, that of 0.25” = 10mi or 1” = 40mi, we can say that our map is basically 400mi by 560mi. 600 miles is a paltry sum as far as latitude is considered, so it would be a stretch to say that there will be a huge amount of climatic variation in this part of the world. Again, this is fine, as the extreme areas will be a dry rocky desert topography and a more temperate Mediterranean climate. It may also be a bit of a stretch, but I am tentatively thinking that the land between the two mountain ranges that converge in the East is of much higher elevation than the rest of the landmass, and therefore will be much cooler.

I also think that it's somewhat safe to say that this map represents part of this world's Tropic of Cancer, assuming that the orbital and axial characteristics of the planet are not too dissimilar from Earth's (I know that this information was generated by the fractal map generator back when we started, but given that I cannot speak for the implications of having a planet with such widely different tilt or size, it seems best to not deviate too far from Earth. As a matter of fact, for this series, I'm entirely disregarding everything that the fractal map generated, apart from the region I selected). So, the southernmost points of the map are at least partially inside the Tropic of Cancer (or on the fringe), and as such, are likely either subtropical or temperate in their climate characteristics (depending exactly how far north the latitudes for our map region are – which is largely a matter of creative fiat at this point). We won't go into wind patterns and Coriolis effects, mainly because that level of meteorology and atmospheric detail is getting a bit too dense for our purposes here. We want something that is believable, but not necessarily entrenched in realism. It is a fantasy world, after all.

After considering all of this information, I've grouped the map into the following climatic zones: in the southern portion of the map, between the two ascending mountain ranges, there is a dry, rocky desert biome (1); north of the desert and in the mountainous areas immediately surrounding the desert, there is a more mild, Mediterranean clmate, filled with a chaparral ecosystem and complete with a large temperate forest in the center. It's logical that precedents from Greece, Rome and the Italian Republics could be used for inspiration to fill the aesthetics of any countries built in these regions (2). However, I think that one of the largest nations in the area will be modeled after Iberian precedents, and transform to something pseudo-Syrian at the bottom-most region of the desert; the area between the two mountain ranges in the East seems to be a natural location for a valley, perhaps a glacial valley at one time in the geological history of this place, but I like the idea of the valley starting off at a lower elevation in the southeastern region and increasing its overall elevation as you move north, gradually becoming more of a plateau or highland, and therefore susceptible to colder temperatures, probably compounded by the amount of offshore flow from the northern sea. The reason for this is mainly to break up the otherwise homogenous climate that would prevail in this area (that is to say, I don't want the entire map to be a desert or pseudo-desert, so this dramatic change in elevation is an artificial means of creating the variation that I would like to see in a campaign setting). Thus, the area marked as (3) is probably something akin to sub-alpine Italy, with a mild climate that dramatically changes with increased altitude as you move toward the Northern mountain range; therefore, the area marked as (7) (and to a large extent, probably area (6) as well) would be more of an alpine region prone to colder prevailing temperatures and harsher winters. 

Actually, as I think about real-world precedent, the northern sea would be analogically similar to the Black Sea, and as such, area (7) could mark the transition into a decidedly more Slavic region (to use modern analogy), and as such, I will probably reference Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia in looking for precedents and other inspiration for the ethnoculture to fill the region. So far, these regions are fitting well with what I would like to see as far as variation and dynamism are concerned, but also as far as what I would expect given that this region isn't too far removed from the Tropic of Cancer (ie. The real-world Black Sea is at approximately 44 degrees N and 35 degrees E on the globe). To further justify the proximity of our desert region to the pseudo-Black Sea region, just look at a map of Earth – Syria is not too far from the Black Sea. As such, both of these elements are not too far removed from the Tropic of Cancer, so I think that by arranging our climatic regions as such, we are preserving as much realism as possible. The question is: how much do we adhere to the ethnocultural precedents from the real-world analogues that we've discussed? It's really a matter of creative fiat as well. Granted, I'm running away with my logic, so I'll try to dial back into the basics here. That leaves regions (4) and (5). Region (4) will be rocky plains bounded by the mountains to the west and south as well as a significant amount of wooded area; it will be temperate as well, with a moderately cold winter and a warm summer. 

On the western side of the mountains, the temperatures will drop again, producing a cooler alpine region, and I think I'll model this region after Anglo-Saxon culture, mainly because I want at least one region to have something based on the more “canonical” elements of a fantasy world, that is medieval European (specifically English) elements. Lastly, area (5), probably buffered from the hot, dry winds of the desert by the Southwestern mountain range (much in the same way that Area 4 and 6 are shielded from the sirocccos), would also be a more temperate, fertile region, given the proximity to the shore and the prominent river that runs through it. I think that this area will probably be a holding of the Iberian nation that exists to the north over the mountains. Although, mountain ranges do usually make for ideal borders between countries – so maybe it will be a principality, suzerainty or somesuch relationship to Area 2. That remains to be seen and will be something that we will begin to discuss next time.

Well. That was a long one, and I think this is where we'll call it for the day. So far, we have a strong understanding of the climatic zones and what sorts of real-world details can be extrapolated to our new world. Next time, we'll look at how these regions are divided up into nations and states and what those nations and states are. We'll also look at some of the fundamentals of a campaign setting, such as the prevailing level of magic in the world, as that will influence how the countries of the world came into being as well as influencing their relationships with one another – militarily and diplomatically.

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