Posts Tagged ‘map making’

You might remember when the fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons Open Gaming License was announced I put out a call for cartographers. It is time to buckle down and finish the Exploration Age Campaign Guide.

For those who need a quick refresher, Exploration Age is my campaign setting that takes place in the world of Canus. Canus is rife with political intrigue, magical technology, ancient ruins, and unexplored territory. Until the last decade the wild continent of Verda was hidden from the rest of the world. Its recent discovery has sent other nations into a land-grabbing frenzy. Adventurers are needed all over the world to scout unexplored wilds, dive into ruins for items that may help spur the creation of new technologies, and navigate the political upheaval of a complicated world. It is an enormous world, a bit larger than our own. Here are a few of the design principles I came up with while creating the world based on the preferences of my own players.

I’ve outlined numerous countries, peoples, organizations, technologies, and more on this blog. Now I’m getting ready to publish the whole dang world.

Clearly for a place like this the map was super important. I’m lucky enough to have two awesome cartographers working with me. Danny Rupp is creating the huge world map and Ryan Hennesy is making all of the individual country maps. They are awesome dudes and their work is so fresh it’s minty. Check them out!

Basically I asked them to take the map I made using Hexographer and turn it into something more awesome.

World Map of Canus

World Map of Canus

I never worked with a cartographer before so I did not know where to start. Luckily they both did and asked me what style of map I wanted. Style of map? I had never thought about that before. I wanted something professional and inspiring… so I got to Googling. I did indeed find there are many different styles of map. Just look at all the differences between these maps of Khorvaire from the Eberron campaign setting. They are all the same place.

You can see a ton of different styles in the maps above! Each one is useful and beautiful in its own right. So which is best for Exploration Age?

Before you settle on a style of map ask yourself the following two questions.

  1. How will my map be used?
  2. What story will my map tell?

For question one the answer is clear. First the map will be used to determine travel distances like most RPG maps. That’s pretty standard. The detail that distinguishes Exploration Age comes in the form of the blank spots on the map. The maps are also meant to be used by GMs as an aid for hex crawls and exploration of these areas.

As far as story goes Canus is a world that is booming with the business of discovery. Its residents just realized the world is twice as big as they thought. Maps are drawn with feverish excitement each day by eager explorers. My maps need immerse the players in this fervor.

For Exploration Age I’m looking for something that feels hand-drawn with a practical scale and hex grid to keep it easy on GMs as they lead their players through exploratory hex crawls. A combination of the first and fourth examples above seems right. I’ll keep you updated on the maps as they get awesome.

Blank Spots

Of course what makes this campaign setting worthy of the name Exploration Age are the blank spots on the map. They have a huge impact on the world and the fact that they exist is the catalyst for many of the events in the world and possibly the places where your party might be adventuring.

I’ll need to make sure these blank spots are clearly marked on the map without seeming too out of place. That’s a big challenge for Danny and Ryan, but I have no doubt they’ll crush it.

I know some of you might be saying, “Why are there blank spots on the map? If I’m paying for a campaign setting, I expect the whole thing!” That’s understandable. I assure you that Exploration Age will come with more than enough world created. You can run an entire campaign all over Canus and never need to explore an unmapped area.

The reason I included these blank areas is I always love creating my own area of a game world even when I’m playing in a published setting. Settings inspire me with a great ideas , but I the world doesn’t always have the room to add them without subtracting from what is already there. I’ve found that many other GMs do the same. We want a chance to add our own ideas to the world we play in. That is what D&D is all about. Even fifth edition lead designer Jeremy Crawford‘s personal campaign world began as Barovia. He rolled back the mists and began building up the area around the gothic setting until he had a much larger world.

That’s why this map has blank spots. So GMs who are inspired by the world to create more can easily make a piece of it their own. There’s tons of inspiration and hanging story threads within the pages of the campaign guide’s manuscript to help bring players and GMs into the unknown. Over the coming months I’ll be sharing more of the world but I’m also going to share some resources and advice that make hex crawls fun and easy. I hope you enjoy what I’m building!

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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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