View Full Version : How Bad is My Coastline: Continent of Alm

Fox Lee
04-21-2012, 10:55 AM
Hi everyone! I'm not actually much of a cartographer, but I am a GM, and ain't nobody gonna draw my world if I don't right? ^_^; Anyway. I'd love it if some of you nice folks would tell me what I've got wrong in my current WIP before I tell my players that this time I totally won't move that mountain range again, cross my heart.

SO, the first version of the map, circa 2004...ish:
Ick! There's a river coming from the middle of my desert! What is that lake doing there ARGH D:< Yeah, here's the thing, I'm terrible at geography. I blame my schooling - I'm pretty sure I didn't even have a geography class before 9th grade, and by then it was way too late. I'm doing better since I moved out of home and grew into being a proper nerd and all, but still, that's a lot to learn. Anyway ASIDE from the somewhat bizarre geography there (ignore the big weird white bit - that's the obligatory "a wizard did it" landmark) I realised pretty quickly that I'd made the whole thing look way too small. This isn't just A continent, it's supposed to be THE continent! The bigass Afro-Eurasian centre of my game world. In the first map, it looks more like a cute little New Zealand. Also my woodlands look kinda like apple-flavoured marshmallow (nom!).

(Plus it was really derivative of Eberron WHUPS)

Ao anyway, last year I sat down and started trying to make my map darker and edgier a bit more realistic looking, and like it would take more than a week to walk across. I didn't get all the way to finishing it, because there were still some things that were bugging me:
I caught on to a few nice techniques this time around, like bevelled coastlines. Less appealing are my not-really-blending colours and obvious tiled textures >.<; More importantly, though, I'd started a huge giant campaign with a continent-spanning war (WotBS anyone? Any ENWorld fans here?) and I kept wanting to widen that gap, extend that mountain range, fiddle with that border... anyway, it got too frustrating and I dropped it for another few months.

Thus we come to tonight! Sick of fanagling wars that didn't quite make sense and borders that were not nearly as defensible as the plot demanded, I took another crack at the thing. This time, finally, it looks significantly different. I mean for reasons other than being a silhouette.
Okay so finally this lump of rock is starting to look big, really big! I hope. Aaaand here's where I'd really appreciate if everybody could give me their advice. DOES it look big to you guys? Would you have any trouble believing that's the major continent on its planet?

What about the coastline - too jagged? I thought last year's version sort of looked too much like puzzle pieces in a lot of places, so I tried to tone that down this time. Also I read up on the forum about rivers especially (DAMN YOU RIVERS) and tried to visualise how the land around them was shaped - do you see any stand-out weirdness? Have I left in any strange inlets or bays or whatever that would simply not occur in nature?

(Oh, ignore the islands shaded in grey for now - they're orbiting above the main continent. I mean what's fantasy if you can't have airships and floating islands, right? Anyway, so they're pretty much irrelevant to the rest of the map.)

Also, if you're not already totally bored, here is an (artistically impeccable!) rendition of what the terrain will be like on the new map:
I'd really appreciate any critique you have on how realistic this is or isn't. There's lots of stuff I'm unsure about (remember, terrible at geography! On Friday night I learned that Africa was like right next to Europe WHICH I HAD NOT PREVIOUSLY KNOWN good lord.). Like, does my savannah need a major river? I have the impression it should require regular flooding, but I may have made that up. Is it appropriate for fields/light wooded areas to sit between the swamp and the savannah? (PLEASE say yes. My players are in the swamp right now and that would be SO EMBARRASSING. D:) The major thing I'm going for is to make it believable/natural - I'm trying to make a fantasy world which, when magic isn't responsible for something, does actually follow the laws of science and nature.

...I just realised I still have rivers just hanging about in the desert. AAARGHDamnit. Maybe I should just extend the mountain range up the coast.

Okay, I'm making less and less sense as this post goes on, so time to send it out into the world! SO, thank you for reading, and please lend me your wisdom! I promise I will be grateful :)

04-21-2012, 11:03 AM
I like the new land shape (although the old land shape was also just fine). Your coastline variations are a little regular, though. Running the black/white land mask image through OldGuy's coastline tutorial might make a huge difference (that's what I do when I found I've made a regularly-variating coastline and it seems to work well).

04-21-2012, 08:00 PM
It looks good, and the terrains seem to work realistically.

04-21-2012, 08:30 PM
I like the shape. It does look like a megacontinent from the silhouette. There are few things that strike me as odd, such as the fact that you have desert, forest, and tundra all at the same latitude. Or that your tundra (which is a very dry climate) is closer to the coast than the forest below it (a wetter climate). The trees get more sparse towards the mountains in that forest, but in real life, the runoff from the mountains would probably encourage the opposite.

Looking at it on the whole, it seems very "snes rpg" chunky - like each area has to be defined by a unique climate feeling. This lets your players travel through many exciting terrains as they journey across the continent, but big chunks of stuff like that aren't very realistic. Look at large climate zones in the real world - there is always a geographical reason behind them - for example, the Amazon is in a huge drainage basin.

It's good that you're designing things with an eye for geography, and I agree that your mountains and rivers look good, but now you should start to think about such things as what hemisphere of the world your continent is in, and elevation and weather (temperature and moisture) as they relate to creating climate zones. Strange as it seems, you can also consider history in shaping climate, to some degree. Was an area deforested by a civilization to build their cities? Or perhaps agriculture has converted farm-able land into desert over centuries (such as what has happened in the Middle East)? Such things can help you rationalize exceptions to the norm for reasons other than magic.

The biggest disadvantage to your current layout, however, is that since each area is a single climate type, it makes the map look smaller to someone like me who expects regions to contain two or three climate types a piece. One thing that can help your continent look huge is if it contains multiple deserts, or large forests, or hilly regions. Makes the viewer think "look how much stuff there is!"

04-21-2012, 08:36 PM
Coastline may be too uniformly wiggly - like Gidde says, there's ways to generate varying degrees of jaggy, plus you can use a bit of logic. Rough landforms can carry on out to sea; there the coast might be highly indented and the bumps that happen to start below sea level may stick up as islands. Places where your landforms are low-relief, like marsh, plain, savannah -- those might have smoother sweeps of coast.

As for location of the various biomes - nothing too unlikely about your swamp then forest then savannah progression. The neighboring peninsulas, one arid and one heavily forested need some rationale. A way could be for you to run the eastern Kobolds' mountains all the way up the coast to the northern cape above your desert. If you then figure your year-round prevailing winds there are out of the west, you could get what's termed a rain shadow - drier climate downwind. Assume the forested peninsula has a bit more northerly winds, and its mountains would actually collect extra rain - humid air pushed upslope tends to lose its water as rain.

Guess that the western coast has a warm current running up it, and the whole western half of the continent could be a bit warmer than otherwise (though the effect would be most pronounced near the coast). Postulate instead a cold current sweeping down from the arctic along the east coast, and you could somewhat justify the desired colder clime there.

The watercourses you show in the desert would go away if you take my mountain= rainshield route. The river over at the east of the savannah is probably ok - those mountains would get at least some rain. The river at the S of 'heavy forest' could be OK; might want to add another in that forest, draining to the north. If there's rain enough to grow a forest, it's probably wet enough for more rivers. Ditto your SE Elven forest - could use some rivers. You don't have to have mountains or hills to get drainage - the sources of streams there in a flattish district need only be dozens or hundreds of feet higher than sea level. Incidentally you can imply some terrain details with how you lay out your rivers - water flows only downhill.

Your rivers branch believably - lots of beginners / geographic innocents don't understand water flow at all. You're doing OK.

Your Madagascary island to the W could plausibly be jungle-ish. A main driver there is not just prevailing winds out of the west, but what latitude it's at. Equatorial latitudes tend to be wetter, 25-35 degree N or S tend to be drier, and then you get a bit wetter up to 60-ish degrees N or S. If you want this assemblage to be as big as say Eurasia, then go ahead and give us a scale bar that indicates that (assume a map projection where a scale bar has meaning). Then maybe draw an equator somewhere around the words Mostly Rocks, and indicate the word Desert is maybe 60 degrees N. That sets your desert N of the strictly lattitude-influenced dryness, but the rain shadow could maybe account for that. That would make your Tundra maybe a bit too far south - are you loving the overall shape, or would you mind stretching your NE quadrant further north?

Any of that sound reasonable?

Fox Lee
04-21-2012, 10:05 PM
Oh, gosh, yes - "uniformly wiggly" is exactly the phrase I was looking for! That's one of the reasons I got annoyed at it in the second version. Hmmm... I'm trying to run it through the method OldGuy describes, but I think my original copy is too high-res for the noise to be relevant; it doesn't make a difference at all to the coastline, it just messes up the rivers. I'm going to try smoothing out all the wiggles a bit first, and doing the noise on a separate layer and scaling it up before I apply it. I think that should solve the high-res problem. Well, I hope! >3>;

Crudus, you made me realise that I totally forgot farmland! D: A lot of my "light wooded" terrain should probably be that instead, as those areas are primary human settlements. Also, thanks for your advice about adding more varied terrain! Back in the day, I chose terrain back when I first made the map by picking what I wanted for the cities and working out from there. In retrospect that seems like a surefire way to make the place feel small, just as you say. My players have also advised me to add more regional divisions. My sense of geography is localised to Australia, so having six or seven great big regions on a continent feels like plenty to me - but that's not very helpful in trying to model a super-continent, nor a fantasy setting (even if it has airships). On that note, I probably also made the central mounatin range look well bigger than it ought to.

Problem is, I'm kind of stuck in the grooves of my original design. From a fresh perspective, would you have any advice on logical places to add varying biomes? I'm seeing the chance to add some more mountains and rivers to the "elven" area, but aside from that it's hard to look past what I'm used to seeing.

jbgibson, I was actually thinking of a rainshadow from the opposite perspective - at first the mountains around the forested peninsula didn't extend all the way north, but when I noticed the desert/forest discrepancy I thought that was the way to explain it. Did I get the wrong side there? Or do I actually need both ranges with the desert in between? And either way, I should probably run a river or two out of the mountains on the forested peninsula, to imply the rainshield effect?

From what you say about rivers, I'm thinking I have indeed overlooked the relationship between forest and river. Most all of my rivers from the central mountain range are on the South side, but the forest is lighter there, so I guess I should have some on the other side too (that area above the central mountains is supposed to be the biggest, strongest region). Also maybe a few rivers coming from the snowy mountains? Okay so they would get snow rather than rain, but that would be likely to melt a bit and create rivers as you come down lower, right?

Hmm, I understand pretty much nothing about latitude and longitude ^^; That said, while I am pretty fond of the shape right now, one thing I could happily do is tilt the entire continent a bit. I like where things are and I need to keep the population centres more or less the same in relation to each other, but I'm not at all attached to which direction is North. Would that help things at all?

Thanks everybody! This has been a huge help already, you're really getting me to think about the stuff I don't know well enough to consider at first. Much appreciated! :D I'll apply some of your advice and post what I get soon.

04-21-2012, 10:28 PM
I think rotating the whole thing counter-clockwise a bit would make things seem more natural for a northern hemisphere continent, where northernmost areas will be colder and drier. As for rain-shield effect, consider that storm systems in the north hemisphere spiral clockwise: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coriolis_effect#Meteorology so rain might spiral around the top of a western mountain range to wet that area, but not the bottom. Somewhere on these forums I read a thread where the poster had done a really detailed workup of weather patterns and how they would effect climates on his worldmap, but I can't remember if it was a tutorial or a WIP thread, and I'm having trouble finding it via search. Maybe a more seasoned member can call it up from memory?

As far as advice with breaking up the areas, I would suggest looking at a physical or satellite map of Eurasia and noticing the patterns and complexity that exist there. Perhaps it would help for you to imagine where your countries will be, and then think about creating six or seven climates within them (think of it in Australia sized chunks!) Then follow the rules and suggestions people are throwing at you about how to convincingly fit them in.

Edit: going back to geology, think about the different types of soils that might exist in different regions. Heavy rainfall might create forest in one area and swamp in another and karst in another depending on whether it is falling on silty loam, or earthy mountain slopes, or limestone.

04-21-2012, 11:15 PM
Somewhere on these forums I read a thread where the poster had done a really detailed workup of weather patterns and how they would effect climates on his worldmap, but I can't remember if it was a tutorial or a WIP thread, and I'm having trouble finding it via search.

Possibly this?

I really need to save this as like a word file, I keep having to go back through old posts to avoid typing it all again.

First: what I am about to say is a generalization and there are exceptions. but generally...

Generally, mountains affect climate. Clouds and rain are carried by winds that tend to blow in the same patterns. When clouds hit mountains, they dump their rain, causing lush forests. But on the other half of the ridge, there is no rain and a desert is created. a wonderful example of this is Northern California vs Nevada. As you go over those mountains you go from forests, strawberry farms, and wineries to slat flats and cacti.

Certain general worldwide patters (caused by the earths rotation) are shown on this map:
Exceptions are common, for example this is how winds generally are:

These rainfall areas will affect multitudes of other things as well. Winds coming off deserts will be warm; one of the reasons for the warmth of europe is the wind from the sahara. If you compare southern France with Maine and you will see a vast difference in climates despite similar latitudes.

Here, for reference, is a map of Europe's Topography:
And here, a map of the Rainfall, with a strong correlation between changes in altitude and a massive dumping of rain.

Once again, there are exceptions, but just think about this before placing major mountain ranges.

Finally; USE AN EQUIRECTANGULAR PROJECTION. if you use one and decide later you want to re-project it there is a simple and easy to use piece of software that will do it for you. if you use something else, you will have to do it by hand. details on the equirectangular projection can be found at this link:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equirectangular_projection
But basically, the x-axis is Longitude and the y-axis is Latitude.

04-21-2012, 11:21 PM
Edit: Double post

04-21-2012, 11:23 PM
Possibly... I doubt that only one person has ever talked about it! In the thread I remember, the poster had applied the concepts to their own original world, however, and included many example pictures showing the process by which they determined pressure cells, predominant winds, etc.

Edit: Found the thread: http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?11964-Where-does-the-wind-blow I'm sure jgibson would have guessed it seeing as how he wrote it :)

Double Edit: not sure how that double post happened, sorry about that.

04-22-2012, 01:12 AM
Umm - yeah, that was me getting all wildly detailed :-). It's fun for me - if it isn't fun for you remember nobody says you HaVe to justify everything ! One aspect of what I did in that thread was land was pretty well distributed around the globe. If you make a couple of basic decisions about size of your continent, you'll be able to figure whether it dominates the weathermaking systems, or if it's more like an island in a mostly ocean globe. "Course at a lot of stages of societal development, hiding another major continent or three 'round the back side of the world wouldn't have much effect on the one you're concentrating on. How 'bout it - are your people Great Navigators who would have already bumped into a new world on the way to Cathay, or are they landlocked geologinoobs, who aren't even too certain the world is round?

04-22-2012, 03:00 AM
The overly generalized vegetation layout according to Erwin Raisz:


There are many exceptions to this general layout, but the important parts here are total north/south extent and proximity to ocean and currents. Did I miss a scale and global placement on this map or is it more of a flat-earth idea (in which case the above does not apply)?

Fox Lee
04-25-2012, 07:23 AM
jbgibson: Not at all! I did ask for realism, since that's my (big HUGE) weak point here. You should learn the rules before you can break them, in my mind, so it's much more useful to have information that's too detailed.

As for my people, they're ind of new around here :) They used to be slaves on a separate continent, then they had a huge uprising and shipped off to the new world. Which was covered in beast-races like gnolls and such, but hey why should that stop humanity from going "okay we own this then!". Okay, maybe that's a bit cynical, let's say they really needed a new home and the gnolls would probably have tried to eat them anyway >3>;

waldronate: No scale yet, because I'm hopeless at that >3>; And I will probably paint myself into a corner when the players start saying "no, the distance is right there, it would only take us x days overland...". I'll put one in eventually, I'm sure, but not quite yet ^_^;

SO! I tried to take away all your advice and step up my game a bit.
So first of all I decided I could let go of the shape after all. This may have had something to do with my inability to find interesting things to fit in all the extra space. So I chopped and changed a bunch of stuff and roughed up my coastline in a more natural fashion. Using noise and blur still didn't do the trick on such a big scale, but using the node jitter in Inkscape worked very nicely (I expect I will use the noise/blur technique when I do regional maps, since those will want more detailed coastlines).

Then I realised that actually, damnit, I did want a Southern hemisphere continent. Everybody has Northern hemisphere continents! I've never seen a "Frozen South" on any fantasy map, even though in most games you pretty much can't spit without hitting a North Wastes. So I flipped some things, reversed some things, chopped some things off and put them on the other side, and actually wound up oddly close to where I started ^^; But this time with a plan!

This version works really well for the climates I wanted, allowing for the rainshadow between those two peninsula(...e?), which should be facing the right direction now that we're in the Southern hemisphere. The equator would be just above the Northernmost island ("Madagascar I guess") above the mainland, and the Southern edge is not quite polar enough to be permafrost, but damn chilly in winter. Also, I added mor character to certain places on the coast - more jagged edges and little islands around the rocky areas, and a smoother edge around the desert.

You can see the two smaller continents I defined, in this version - since I made the humans slog all the way over from somewhere else, I was nice and gave them a bit of a land-bridge a la North/South America (too bad about the mountains. Sorry, humans!). Over to the East is the abandoned land of the Obligatory Technologically-Advanced Precursor Race Who Died In An Unspecified Magical Catastrophe. Perfect for treasure hunting!

Here is a profoundly ugly terrain sketch:
(Actually it looks kind of okay in the folder thumbnail, but good grief, those are some nasty looking mountains up close. I guess in the final I just need to make the detail fine enough to blend like that. OH WELL! We're not trying to be pretty yet. Anyway, I looked at a bunch of real world maps and I was kind of amazed at how sudden the change in terrain seems to be at this scale. I never would have guessed there was such a distinct "banding" effect in places like Africa. Gosh this is being good for my education O:

So, what you say you all? More convincing now?

Thanks again everybody, I feel like I've made great progress ^^ It looks kind of a lot like the very first version, but it makes lots more sense, which is exactly what I wanted :)

04-25-2012, 11:00 PM
I like your supercontinent! :)

So do you have a warm shallow sea with lots of coral reefs there between the two continents, and that big mountain range in the west of the second thumbnail is an active uplift zone, like the Appalachians in the Paleozoic? I like that a lot!

What is the idea behind that crazy three-pointed mountain range?

04-26-2012, 12:44 AM
Perhaps the three-pointed mountains range is a hard rift that hasn't fully opened yet? http://maps.google.com/?ll=11.867351,43.857422&spn=12.212575,19.753418&t=k&z=6 shows what happens when a couple of arms are open on such a rift and the third is opening.

Fox Lee
04-26-2012, 04:45 AM
The idea is that I needed mountains in some places to shove the plot in the right direction. No I mean waldronate totally had it right, I knew that all along! :D Not really.

Actually, now that I think about it I don't actually need the north-pointing branch any more, since I moved the homeland of my nasty facsist army over to the south-pointing fork. Even better! :D

04-26-2012, 04:59 PM
Perhaps the three-pointed mountains range is a hard rift that hasn't fully opened yet? http://maps.google.com/?ll=11.867351,43.857422&spn=12.212575,19.753418&t=k&z=6 shows what happens when a couple of arms are open on such a rift and the third is opening.

That photo also shows that there's a rift going down the middle of such mountain ranges, lol.

Fox Lee, by north-pointing you mean the one that runs north-south, or the short one that runs toward east-northeast? Either way it'll look better with only two. And hey, you got the 120 degree rule right, that definitely helps the believability!

Fox Lee
04-26-2012, 08:15 PM
Fox Lee, by north-pointing you mean the one that runs north-south, or the short one that runs toward east-northeast? Either way it'll look better with only two.
Whups, that was ambiguous huh? I meant the one pointing northeast. In last year's version I needed it to separate two kingdoms from obliterating each other, but in this version I moved one of them, so now they are divided by the southernmost branch already. So, no worries :D

And hey, you got the 120 degree rule right, that definitely helps the believability!
Hey, go me! Umm... so I don't have to operate on luck next time, would you like to tell me what that is? ^_^; Something about the maximum angle between branches maybe?

04-27-2012, 02:04 AM
So there's this thing where intersections of three tectonic plates tend to form 120 degree angles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple_junction). It's pretty much purely a matter of how you can tile a sphere -- think "soccer ball" -- nothing tectonically complicated here, just straight geometry.