PDA

View Full Version : Maps & Illustrations Together - A Personal Journey



Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:15 AM
I’ve no idea whether a thread flooded with illustrations will prove a major faux pas on a cartographer’s website, or will just seem unprofessional, but here’s how I got into fantasy cartography in the first place. It’s also how I got the name Ashenvale, which I use on writing and illustration sites everywhere.

Around the time I became disabled and had to stop practicing law, a group of my fellow litigators introduced me to the computer game Baldur’s Gate, with which they’d become somewhat obsessed. I took one look at it and said that’s just D&D, which we used to play as kids with pencils, paper, and dice. They didn’t believe me, so I volunteered to pull out my old books prove it. As a lark (because professional adults don’t play D&D, right?), I invited them over one evening to play. I wrote an adventure about a magical stone and a fallen, cliff-side cathedral. They came over, and we played.

A decade passed. We’re still playing.

I had not begun my formal art training at this point. But I had basic skills. I began illustrating aspects of our adventure as it grew into a campaign. I loved being able to say while we played, “When you turn the corner, you see this!” and hold up an illustration.

This mountainside map, showing the alpine setting for the adventure, was the first real map I ever made. I drew the style from ski mountain maps I’d always adored. It’s oil paint on illustration board. I didn’t add the clean, digital roads and tags until a couple years later, after I discovered Photoshop.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:17 AM
This glowing-stone image, dark and full of snow, hit me first. It became the inspiration for the maps that followed. I wanted to build a setting that felt like this image. It set the atmosphere for the whole project.

Storywise, the PCs began on The High Road on the previous mountainside map, headed towards Emberfall when they ran into this nasty wereleopard flaying an itinerate cleric and stealing the artifact on which the adventure turns. It escapes with the glowing stone.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:19 AM
The cleric begs the PCs to take him to Emberfall, the alpine town on the west side of the mountainside map. I never “mapped” the town. I painted this image instead, and we used it like a map, just pointing to buildings as need arose.

This is the one “good” place in the adventure, so I wanted an inviting setting. I wanted it to contrast with the evil feel of the ruined cathedral clinging to the cliff side. The Emberfall illustration may look a tad like a Christmas card, but I still love it.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:21 AM
In town, the PCs found dozens of people in comas, wasting away from a disease or curse that nothing cures. An ancient parchment from the church suggests the glowing stone is a Savior’s Stone, the only thing that can save the comatose victims. I love handouts. The adventure actually had a half dozen of them. Here’s one, built entirely in Photoshop.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:23 AM
It takes the rest of the adventure to learn this the glowing rock their all seeking is actually a Sinner’s Stone, the antithesis of a healing stone. It steals souls of good people immediately after they perform a bad deed, sealing their souls in a permanent state of sin so the souls can be taken forever to the lower planes. The itinerate cleric is evil. He conjured a night hag in Ashenvale Cathedral’s ruins. She gave him the stone. He plans to return it to her full of stolen souls. Destroying it is the only way to save the stricken villagers. But now the wereleopards, who saw the cleric conjure the night hag, have stolen the stone.

Knowing none of this yet, the PCs find other clues steering them towards Ashenvale Cathedral, the wereleopard’s lair. They trek up the Rising Road to Chasm Bridge, only to find it haunted by a ghost.

This is a watercolor. A BIG watercolor. I don’t think I’ll ever do another watercolor that big.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:25 AM
It turns out the ghost was the husband of the evil cleric’s first use of the stone. The cleric pushed her off the bridge when she pursued him after stealing her husband’s soul. She’s a potential source of information, but insane and violent.

This is an oil painting onto which I added snow and lighting effects with Photoshop. I used the same color set I’d begun working into the main Ashenvale Cathedral ruins maps coming up.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:28 AM
The PCs climb to the cathedral ruins.

I built this elevation in Photoshop much later, using the floor plans for each of the cathedrals layers. I dropped the floor plans into isometric perspective, then connected the walls up around them. This one has a TON of layers! Walls in front of other walls, effects on top of other effects, and so on.

I distorted the building into three-point perspective after completing the elevation. It took about two seconds to do what would have taken me a week to get correct with a pencil and ruler. Don’t you love Photoshop?

I like this elevation, but wish I'd made it darker, more sinister. The golden sunlight works effectively, giving me a nice temperature change across each turning surface, which helps them create a sense of space. But snow, shadows, and darkness might have better created the mood.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:30 AM
Here’s the upper floor of the ruins to which the Rising Road leads. In retrospect, this map is too complex for a DM or GM to use easily. It’s loaded with illusionary floors. Falling through one either drops you to the lower level or down the cliff side’s 1,000 foot drop, depending on where you step off. But a DM can’t easily tell which is which at first glance. My urge to make the image pretty overtook my need to make the tool practical.

It still holds a place in my heart, however, as my first gargantuan Photoshop project. Of course, it’s also got about 10,000 layers.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:32 AM
Here’s the half-dragon/pixie that made all the permanent illusions of floors. She’s tiny, but a major pest, stalking the PCs invisibly and sniping at them with sleep arrows while they walk along ledges. I painted her as much to have a seductive image among the set of illustrations as for any other reason. No Photoshop here. Just paint.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:33 AM
Despite the alpine setting, I felt a need to throw in some snake people that crawled up from the Underdark. Why not?

The warm colors, however, fall somewhat out of the color scheme for the entire package, but I’d begun building some green into the lower level map, so I went with it.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:35 AM
This map of the cathedral ruin’s lower level works much better than the upper level map works. My skills were improving. The warm greens pull a bit away from the overall sense of cold I wanted the illustrations and maps to convey, but added a sinister quality of corruption or decay hard to achieve with blues and purples alone.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:36 AM
The main southeastern section of the lower level contains the rubble of the portions of the cathedral’s upper level that have collapsed, some wall and arch segments still bound together by ancient magics. I wanted this tiny little painting to give the players a sense of wonder their PCs wonder emerging into this landscape. Soon enough they’ll start stumbling across the body parts frozen into the towering rubble. The wereleopards release humanoids they’ve captured into this warren-like maze to stalk and terrorize.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:37 AM
Wereleopards.

This particular image ended up on the cover of a fantasy short-story anthology called “Hear Them Roar!” I showed the original painting to author C.J. Henderson at a gaming conference. He said he liked it so much could write a story about these two wereleopards and put the illustration on a book cover. I said, pull that off, and I’ll give you the damned painting. A year later, I had my first book cover and a story about wereleopards I’d inspired. The painting now hangs in C.J.’s study.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:37 AM
Finally, here’s the illustration for the adventure’s big finale, the night hag returning to collect her Sinner’s Stone. This is an oil painting, but I subsequently improved it so much in Photoshop that it isn’t really should call it a digital illustration.

Ashenvale
08-21-2009, 11:42 AM
I sent Paizo an adventure query for this whole project in 2002. They liked the proposal and greenlit the project for a manuscript. When I finished the manuscript, I sent it and the original illustrations to Paizo all in one, big package. This spurred one of the funniest threads I've seen on Paizo's boards:

http://paizo.com/dungeon/news/v5748eaic9js7

AslanC
08-21-2009, 11:57 AM
Wereleopards.

This particular image ended up on the cover of a fantasy short-story anthology called “Hear Them Roar!” I showed the original painting to author C.J. Henderson at a gaming conference. He said he liked it so much could write a story about these two wereleopards and put the illustration on a book cover. I said, pull that off, and I’ll give you the damned painting. A year later, I had my first book cover and a story about wereleopards I’d inspired. The painting now hangs in C.J.’s study.

I love this piece!

And the story as well, very cool stuff my friend :)

Redrobes
08-21-2009, 12:29 PM
VCool. Must be good having a DM who has a day job doing role playing supplement illustrations...

NeonKnight
08-21-2009, 12:42 PM
All I can say is....beautiful *sniff*

Redrobes
08-21-2009, 12:48 PM
I sent it and the original illustrations to Paizo all in one, big package....You wanna check these out too...
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/07/23/enormouse/
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/29/aboxalypse_now/

Steel General
08-21-2009, 01:11 PM
Some beautiful work Ashenvale.

FYI...you can upload multiple attachments to a post - I believe the limit is 5

Heathcourt
08-21-2009, 01:28 PM
Holy. Freakin'. Wow!
Absolutely gorgeous!

philipstephen
08-21-2009, 02:21 PM
An inspiring series of images and game material!

Great work!

Phil

ravells
08-21-2009, 02:37 PM
What a lovely story. Thanks for sharing, Ashenvale! What a talented individual you are! I'm glad you found your metier.

All the best

Ravs

mystic badger
08-26-2009, 12:52 AM
did they publish you ?

vhailor27
09-25-2009, 05:11 AM
A great story with amazing pictures. I loved the art.

Being close to people better than you.
Finding out at last what is false and what is true.
Isn't that the only way to reach a higher level?
Hey Ashenvale, should I use blur or bevel?

Ramah
09-25-2009, 05:22 AM
Being close to people better than you.
Finding out at last what is false and what is true.
Isn't that the only way to reach a higher level?
Hey Ashenvale, should I use blur or bevel?

In the parlance of our times.... I LOL'ed. :)

zenram
09-25-2009, 10:39 AM
Wow, impressive art and game material, and... A fun history too... XD