Maps & Illustrations Together - A Personal Journey
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.
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.
Last edited by Ashenvale; 08-21-2009 at 11:43 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.
Last edited by Ashenvale; 08-21-2009 at 11:43 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.