View Full Version : How do I step up my game and generate realistic looking geography?

05-21-2008, 01:01 AM
okay, so I've been browsing maps here for a bit and I'm a little jelous of the talent I'm seeing. I have questions. (I'll likely have a lot over the next few months.) I'm getting ready to put together a campaign setting for D&D 4e, and I really want to put something 'professional looking' together. I could go with my usual collection of squiggly line blob continents and islands, but they never seem to mesh and create a really beleivable big picture with island chains that look natural and so on.

I'm looking for tutorials, tips, etc..

The Long Story
I've got a little skill with a pencil from my "I'm going to be a comic book artist" teen years and I have Adobe CS1 and an intuous platinum digitizer (and no real clue how to use either). My intention is to set up untextureed/uncolored outlines for my land masses, so that I can then use them for a more hand drawn looking map as well as a more textured and realistic one at some point. That make any sense?

I'm actually going to build the setting down-up, starting from a 500x500 mile area... so I don't plan to really flesh out the rest right now but I want to try to get some basics in place so that expansion might be easier later.

05-21-2008, 02:36 AM
Nothing wrong with Adobe CS1, however, if you don't know it, then its not going to hurt you to try GIMP instead - its free, find it, download, install it.

Then use RobA's Tutorial to get you started...
RobA's GIMP tutorial (http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?t=1142)

Follow the tut, start using the application. Then create your own custom design using those steps. Find other tutorials on this site. Keep learning and experimenting.

Before long you'll be creating masterpieces of your own.

Not that you couldn't do that with Photoshop - its just give GIMP a try! 8)

05-21-2008, 05:28 AM
Also, take a look at RobA's tutorial on 'how to make not so random coastlines (http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?t=875)' which sounds perfect for your needs. It will work with photshop (although written for Gimp). The idea is that you draw blobs roughly outlining where you want your landmasses to be, go through the process which fractalises the landmasses for you. It generates great looking coastlines and IMO is one of the best tutorials on the site.

05-21-2008, 08:23 AM
This is a freebie I write if you want to try it. It outputs detailed coastlines but also generates a height map which you can use for various other effects. Its not very advanced but its very quick and easy to use.

Instant Islands (http://www.viewing.ltd.uk/cgi-bin/viewingdale.pl?category=instant_islands)

05-21-2008, 11:29 AM
If it is realistic looking (as in "earth-like") I would suggest starting with some of the world-building references in the forums.

Start with things like plate tectonics, and climate modeling. These will drive everything from the shape of mountains to desert locations to polar ice regions to coastal features. Deep sea fault lines and plate movement determine volcanic island chains, etc.

Before that, I guess you need to consider things like axial tilt (which determines seasons) and moon(s) size(s) (which determines tides) and planet composition (metal core, etc.) which effect a whole bunch of factors.

Hope that isn't too out there for you. There is a lot on these topics in the forums, including pointers to off-site links like the climate cookbook.

-Rob A>

05-21-2008, 01:44 PM
Thanks for the pointers and links. I found the one about less than random coastlines last week, but then couldn't seem to find it or recall the thread title when I went looking again.

I've looked into some of the more advanced topics in the past Rob. I don't know that I have the head for science to put it all to work correctly.

I'll continue reading and post some sketches or digital drafts for critique. I guess the best way to get input will be to try to show folks what I'm going after.

05-22-2008, 01:01 PM
Heh. I read through the tutorials, and fell in love with some of the techniques... and now I'm thinking of taking this in an entirely unrealistic direction instead.

I've always wanted to do a land planet: A planet with no oceans, though a large portion of it would be covered by an area of vast wetland where the waters from many rivers that form in the, rainforrests in the shadows of massive mountain ranges, gather. Savanna, dessert, and other dry/harsh climates would dominate the rest of the world.

Of course that would limit how much usefulness I would get out of the tutorials. I tried to map the land planet once before, but the lack of continents to provide natural divison between areas, and attempting to figure out how to draw a round planet without distortion, made it hard to wrap my head around it. Maybe I'll give it another go.

I need to decide on something soon. *sigh*

05-22-2008, 01:42 PM
I wonder whether such a planet is actually feasible. I mean, the lack of water means that the overall temperature is - I think - completely at the mercy of day and night. Like Venus or Mercury...

On the other hand, I think it could be explained with Terraforming (gone awry, if necessary). If it's a fantasy world, then noone probably knows about that...

I had the idea of a "endless land realm" long ago (when I was still drawing *cough* Zelda-Comics *cough.harder*), so I'll be watching this...