View Full Version : My first real Map

02-03-2011, 06:42 PM
Hello everybody!

I've been following the forums for quite some time now, reading tutorials, admiring other people's maps and drawing maps of my own.
Now I think the moment has come to show my most advanced mapping project to date, this map right here:


This is about the 8th version of a map/worldbuilding project I've pursued for the last 4 years. As the world evolved in my head and my notes the map began to expand and shift shapes, forcing me to redesign it at least 50 times. Finally I got over myself and decided to let Fractal Terrains draw the coastline, 'cause I an just incapable of doing really realistic landmasses. Now I think I found the right shape and size to incorporate all the numerous ideas I've got for the world I'm building, which I intend to use for a fantasy novel some time.

It's a high fantasy world with a very noir touch to it, meaning it's all grand in scope but very human and realistic in the details. I'm trying to let that reflect in my maps. There are three main empires/kingdoms:
- The Enorian Empire (Roman/Qin Chinese-inspired great empire, a mix of antiquity and the renaissance with a touch of chinese high culture. (Yeah, sounds weird I know))
- Sierme (A Spanish/English-influenced kingdom, very medieval)
- Yankesh, a floodplain/jungle society inspired by India and Mesopotamia).

These principal powers are surrounded by feudal states (Lankaia, Tsarist Russia-inspired), city aristocracies and republics (Nisen coast, Valletia), Tribal societies (Timurien, Njordar, Pyrai) and a desert culture in the southeast corner.

Would be great if someone could look at it, especially from a geological/climatological point of view, and tell me where I could improve my work.
Thanks a lot in advance and please excuse my writing style, It's late already :D

02-03-2011, 07:28 PM
I'd change the blue to something a bit lighter but otherwise I think it looks darn nice so far.

02-03-2011, 07:48 PM
Agreed, the blue is VERY vivid, but other than that it's looking good :)

02-03-2011, 08:00 PM
You might do something to punch up the contrast of the mountain texture. The rivers and coastlines are so clearly delineated that it seems a bit odd for that texture to be so washed out. Of course, you don't want to do anything to disturb the legibility of the labels.

It looks like there might be one river flowing uphill. It comes down out of the Frostwall mountains, passes through a city called Aereth, and then goes through a mountain pass on its way to the sea. I'm not sure what that greyish color represents, but if it's an indication of height, then the river cannot climb up to go through that pass. It would more likely divert down to that lake to the south.

Also, on the topic of rivers, they tend to be straighter near their source and start to meander as they reach the lowlands. Your rivers are currently a little too straight, I think. Of course, getting a realistic-looking river path is about as difficult as getting good coastlines, so don't fret too much about that.

02-04-2011, 01:06 AM
I might desaturate the ocean some, like the others noted. Just a thought about getting rivers to behave believably - you're doing okay at wiggling some curves into place, but a way to express what Midgardsormr notes might be the scale is partly off. Try doing your wiggles while zoomed in progressively more and more as you draw your way downstream. That could make "random one-inch hand movement" trace progressively tighter and tighter curves, like a mature river in flatlands developing loops and swirls.

02-04-2011, 06:09 AM
Thank you all for the tips and suggestions!

I'll try to play around some with the colour of the water, hope I can get something a little less vivid...

As to the rivers, those are still little more than sketches, done with the "path" tool in PS, i wanted to work on them but then got carried away naming stuff :-)
And I just realized that it really looks like the river up north flows across a mountain range, but that's just flat tundra there. But I'll tweak the colours a little to make that clearer.

Another question which arose when I took another look at the place names, what's your opinion on those? I am quite satisfied with the made-up ones, but the english names started to seem a little weird when I thought about them again. Has anyone got any good tips on naming places?

@jbgibson: I'm not sure whether I completely understand your suggestion on how to do the rivers, would you mind to elaborate on that? :D

@midgardsormr: interesting obeservation about the mountain texture, have you got an idea on how to improve that? cause i never really liked it but everything i tried made it worse, so i decided to leave it at that.

02-04-2011, 10:43 AM
Very nice map. I really like the form of your landmass. And your ideas for the setting sound interesting.

And...you're from Zurich? Cool stuff. I live near Zurich as well. And am a hobby-ish writer myself :D Are you by any chance also into p&p rpgs? That would open up a lot of interesting possibilities.


02-04-2011, 10:09 PM
A river-technique that might work: assume you're working on the map at 200% zoom. Start drawing a wiggly river up in some mountain area. A given random twitch of your hand when drawing the path might be a couple of centimeters to one side. Call that a 100-km curve. As you get further downstream, zoom in to 300%. Now the same twitch will be just a 67km curve - a tighter loop. Then zoom in 400%, 500%, and so on, automatically producing somewhat "wigglier" river path as you zoom. There's a limit - most small scale (large area) maps will have to have some generalization ... a true depiction of *every* curve would get down into tweaking single pixels!

At your initial zoom, you probably *couldn't* draw a believable lower-river loop or oxbow. Such detail would require precise hand movements of a millimeter or less, and the small curves you managed to produce would be uneven. Zoomed in, such would be easier to make. Even nearing a river's mouth there'll still be large-extent curves, it's just those sweeping wanders will be overlaid with little loops. A way to get the 100-km wanders even far downriver is maybe to use your present paths as just guidelines. Draw your "real" path as wiggles superimposed on the rough path. Go to Google maps and follow a given river from source to ocean, and you'll get an idea of the progression.

This is a generality - sure, different rivers have different degrees of curvature. And really, if you zoomed WAY in on a creek's headwaters, you might see even more chaotic paths, as tiny watercourses avoided each hill and ridge. But at a continental scale, that doesn't show. But if you put in at least some of the progression from less curvy to downright loopy, your rivers will suddenly snap into "believable".

The names are okay. Only the worldbuilder can say what languages have lent names to this or that feature. You *can* automatically convey a sense of patches of different cultures, just by modeling different areas' names on different earthly cultures. At the same time, you can convey that an area has hosted multiple people groups just by purposefully mingling name types. You ought to not overlay the big names (Enorian Empire, Midlands) over the city and town names.

Say your cartographer or your focal nation speaks English, or something like it. It's perfectly natural for him to use *his* countrymen's names for familiar features, even if the "locals" would have their own quite different names. My map of your home would almost certainly term your neighbors Germany and Austria. Yours might label them Deutschland and Osterreich, yes? There's room for grand confusion in a world of nonstandard names, but complexity can build into your world a richness that would be lacking if your cartographer stubbornly Anglicized (or Enorianated) all the labels :-).

When labeling, it's best to distinguish between types of features, whether by font, size, text color, or whatnot. For example, I can't tell if Midlands is a land type, region, a nation, or a subnational political unit of the Enorian Empire. Ravells posted a really good paper he found on name positioning - there's a link to it in his signature.

I do like your map - it has a lot going for it. It's worth further refining.

02-05-2011, 05:11 AM
@eilathen: Thanks! You're from Zurich? Really? Amazing coincidence! Where from exactly? I'm from Wädenswil, but working in Zurich. I got into p&p a little through my sister and some freinds of hers, but I somehow never found enough time to play more frequently than every two months or so. My way into worldbuilding and fantasy was more by way of books, call it a hazard of the trade for a bookseller with delusions of creativity :-) May I ask what rpg you are into? My people are great fans of DSA...

@jbgibson: Thanks a million, man, a boatload of fascinating ideas and suggestions! I'll give them a try as soon as I'm off work and on holiday. Concerning the names, I think I'll find a good explanation for the language-mix in certain regions, and of course the map's been drawn by some arrogant Enorian cartographer, so some language bias is justified, I think. :-)

I'll post some updated version some time next week, as soon as I return from my vacation in the bone-freezingly cold mountains :D

02-05-2011, 07:36 AM

Wanted to send this to you via PM, but you can not receive it yet (or maybe you disabled it). So here goes (in short version ^^ ):
I am into a lot of rpgs, to be honest. I could talk hours about the different kinds i like (yes, I am a geek ;) ). But maybe I'll send you a PM sometime or maybe you're up for a beer sometimes in Zürich? Btw, do you speak german (or swissgerman)?
How about taking up some rpging again? I mean seriously, if the concept interests you, there is no better worlddevelopment-process and inspiration then playing some fun games in your world. I can highly recommend it.

But i promised to keep it short (as to not derail the thread). But I am up for more talk if you're interested.
As a sidenote, I am also seriously addicted to fantasy-books... which ones do you like?


02-05-2011, 11:38 AM
You'll need to wait until he's posted five times (I think? There was talk of bumping it up to ten to deal with spammers) before he can send or receive private messages.

02-05-2011, 04:58 PM
Haha that means I'm only one count away from that! :-)

@eilathen: Let's talk via PM or e-mail, way more convenient. I am starting to wonder who you are though...remarkably many things you mention that strike me as familiar, I know a lot of people into fantasy books and rpgs from around Zurich...you got me wonderin'. And yeah, I do speak swiss-german, so if that's easier for you, feel free :D Cheers

02-11-2011, 10:50 AM
Yes, only one reply away from pm-abilities...come on, you know you want it ;)

Funny that...it IS possible that we know each other...that would prove how small the world is ^^ OTOH, I am sure we would have talked about your worldbuilding if we knew each other...because it would have definitely come up...trust me :D ;)
Also, los, Beitrag 5 und dann chömer los pm-ä ;)

02-12-2011, 06:49 AM
haha, here we go with post no. 5, pm-ing incoming!

Now i'm getting back to work on that map, rivers start looking like rivers now :-)

02-23-2011, 03:23 PM
Hello again. First of all I wanted to thank you all again for the great tips an suggestions. I've mostly been working on the details of my world recently, and while writing down some historical and cultural details I realized that I wasn't really happy with my map. My main problem is that I've got a whole lot of very different cultures very close to each other. The further I delved into the history of these nations/cultures the more I found myself making up excuses and finding solutions to explain the present state of the world. Meaning I realized that many of these differences would've more or less disappeared in time given the proximity of the various countries. And on the other hand I found that some things just didn't work out climatologically/geologically (Yeah, thanks to my sister who studies that stuff at university... :D) So after I did some thinking I decided to redo the map on a greater scale and spread all the ideas I have on more land (more continents, actually) , as well as increasing the distance inbetween those land masses.

What I wanted to ask was whether anybody had any great idea as to how I should design this world. In the past I tried to draw the coastlines by hand and then scanning/importing it into photoshop. Problem is, I usually end up with highly unrealistic coasts and geologically impossible land masses. And yes, that's quite important to me, I'm trying to create a world as realistic as possible, so this would not do. Does anybody know whether there are any programs, tools that could help me with that, or else if there are any hand drawing techniques that could help me create more realistic land shapes.

I'll try and do some experimenting, but if anybody got an idea I'd appreciate the input.

Thanks in advance!


02-23-2011, 05:24 PM
I really like starting with a planetgen (http://www.gharat.net/pages/planetgen.html) map, and then tweaking it to get rid of the telltale fractal-world issues. Planetgen is free, very simple, very fast, and useless for anything but a starting point. But I find that it gives pretty darn good starting points. From there I usually blow it up and then use OldGuy's coastline tutorial on it. Then I chuck the original mountains (in fact, I tweaked the settings on planetgen so that all it outputs is a black and white land/sea pic) and do all that from scratch. OH -- and if you can, buy "A Magical Society: Ecology and Culture" which is a 160-page pdf, available from all the usual RPG suspects for around 10-20 dollars if I remember correctly. It will take you step by step through a simplified yet reasonably realistic way to build a world that actually works.