Literal World Building

Posted: March 25, 2014 in Brass Tacks
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m not sure there’s anything more frustrating to me than trying to create a map. I am a horrible visual fine artist. Envisioning what I want is easy, but I just don’t have the skills to execute. I wanted to use a program that would help me create a large world map, easily and quickly. One that would make calculating travel easy and allow me to convey a lot of information in one shot. One that wouldn’t look too terrible!

You’ve Got Options

There are actually a ton of programs you can use to make a world map that fits the bill. Here’s a few resources you can use to make a great world map without being a Photoshop wizard or fine artist.

  • Mapdiva – Has a ton of interesting tools and their example maps look great, but I think you need to be a decent artist to make it work and it seems a little pricey.
  • Campaign Cartographer 3 – Oooooh giirrrrl. This one looked like it might be it. Easy to use, decent price, looks great… but you have to be on the PC and I’m on a mac. Crap.
  • Fractal Mapper – Same great stuff and singular problem as above.
  • Stone Sword – Free and web-based! On a great track! But it looks limited in its variety of visual terrain options, and I’m not sure it allows me to create a world map big enough.

Now I didn’t actually use any of these as you can tell from individual reasons listed, but maybe one of them is right for you! To make the map of Canus, I used a program called Hexographer. I have to say it’s certainly not the best looking map creator out there, but it allowed me to do all of the things I needed to do and it runs on both Mac and PC.

So Why Hexographer?

Here’s my list of reasons for going with Hexographer after doing a little research and playing around.

  • It’s a hex mapper. – I really love hex maps because they make calculating travel very easy. How far is A to B? Well, just count up the number of hexes along your route, multiply them by the scale and BAM! Answered.
  • It’s easy and fast. – Hexographer has loads of handy features, and the basic concept of placing individual terrain hexes down to create a map is pretty user-friendly. You can place them all individually, you can input settings and have it generate a random world map, or you can make a sort of outlined world and then use the terrain wizard feature to fill in the gaps.
  • It has a lot of variety and customization. -Hexographer has a multitude of hex tile options. Pictured below is just the tip of the iceberg. The titles, lines, text graphics, shapes, and more are all customizable and make it easy for you to really shape the world (or galaxy) you want to make.
    • Some terrain hexes available.

      Some terrain hexes available.

    • Some symbols that can be added to the map.

      Some symbols that can be added to the map.

  • It’s free. – Yep. You can pay more to get a license and get some cool features (which I did), but everything listed above is 0 dollars. 0.

Size of Canus

So after I picked the software I wanted to use to create the map, I had to determine just how big Canus is. I know I want adventures that span the world to feel as epic and big as they might in our own world… if not bigger! The scale of my hexes to be easy to add for figuring out distances. My map is roughly 500 hexes across. The circumference of Earth is just under 25,000 miles, so I decided to make each hex 50 miles across. That makes Aeranore and Bragonay about the same size across and the United States. Hopefully that scaling will make my world feel huge and epic. I’m not too worried about travel time between places, since Exploration Age is full of many neat ways to get around, like airships, underground railways, portals, magic beasts of burden, and magically enhanced cobblestone roads. Let me know what you think of that scale. Is it too big? I really was having trouble judging it, but if you need to get around the world, that should take a while!

Blank Spots

Obviously a big part of Exploration Age is… well, exploration. So I’ve got a few big blank spots on the maps. Both of the poles, northern Glacius, most of Verda, and most of The Damned Lands. I’m actually thinking that when I put these materials out for others, I’ll include my DM map as well with the blank spots revealed for all those DMs out there. The blank spots do present a bit of a problem. In a world where airships exist, why haven’t people done fly overs to map out unknown areas? Well my friends, airships wouldn’t be much fun if they didn’t have a bit of danger! In Exploration Age, airships need to be recharged with raw arcane energy every 500 miles. This process is as quick as refueling a car, so it doesn’t really slow down travel. The refueling process requires a huge tower topped with a massive crystalline rod. The rods are then filled with arcane energy by mages once a year. All airships have an apparatus which allows them to connect to the rod and recharge. Since the towers take many years to build, there are few in Verda and almost equally few airships since they had to be built there, since they can’t be piloted across the ocean. This helps keep the game exciting. An airship adventure has danger and resource management. If you have one it doesn’t automatically let you surpass all challenges. Also airships will have to take certain routes. Picture an encounter on one of these towers, as a rod crackles with energy PCs must find their way to the ship above which is leaving in moments, or lie in wait for an enemy airship coming to refuel… or perhaps someone lies in wait for them!

What Do Ya Got?

Take a look for yourself. Here’s Canus! Let me know how I did.

World Map of Canus

World Map of Canus

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  1. I’ve got to try out some of those map programs sometime (esp since I use a PC, so I have more options). My big home campaign used MS Paint for the map. It’s horribly basic, with no graphical details beyond slanty-lined mountains and green-filled forest regions with wavy blue-line rivers, but it got the job done when I started. I’d like to take the time to do it better, though.

    Out of curiosity, have you heard any feedback (or do you have any yourself) on time investments with these various software packages? I’ve got a pretty busy schedule, and would hate to start using one only to realize that I needed to do 50 Photoshop layers that I didn’t have time for. Hexographer looks pretty straightforward, but do you have an estimate on how much time it took for you to put together the Canus map you posted? I’m just trying to get a ballpark idea.


    • Hey Joe, great question. So essentially you outline the areas of the map you want, and the terrain wizard fills in the rest. Although, the terrain wizard isn’t as intuitive as I’d like. This is also a huge map that’s 500 hexes across, so you don’t have to go as big.

      I’d say total it took me about 8 hours to make the map base without labels, icons, rivers, etc. It probably took me another 8 to do all the other stuff. I was doing a lot of adjusting and figuring it out as I went.

      Hexographer also allows you to place another map as a transparency over the map you’re working on. So you could bring in your MS paint map and build according to that and things might go a lot faster for you. Time is a huge factor and I always wish I had more of it!


  2. Unless your whole globe isn’t shown in your map, you should extend your northern and southern poles to the complete edge of the map, if you were to take what you’ve done and transpose it to a sphere, your N&S pole landmasses are going to look funky and both will be off-center of where you really what them to be.


    • Thanks! You know, I was wondering about that. So tricky because they’re at the top and bottom of the map! That does make sense what you’re saying. I’ll definitely expand the poles.


  3. […] the inside of a hole could be any place unknown! I’ve already written a few posts about the blank spots in the world of Exploration Age and how some people in the world want to adventure for profit, […]


  4. topdecker222 says:

    That is a huge number of hexes! I’d not considered jacking the scale up so far that coastlines seem to normalize when zoomed out. So yeah, this is a fairly epic scale!

    When you scale your hex maps, I’d suggest thinking about setting the scale so the map can be scaled down – or up – a little easier. 5 mile hexes become 25 mile super-hexes which become 125 mile mega-hexes. On the 6 mile scale, it goes 6, 36, and 216 mile hexes. The 8 mile math might be more to your liking since 64 mile super-hexes may be close enough to what you had intended.


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