(Yet Another Wandering Newbie)
I have been a dungeon master for the past, oh, 23 years? I was actually 12 years old back then.
Started with Mystara and then switched to AD&D 2nd... and I started to create my own maps.
The only cartography programs I have ever used are the ones in AD&D Core Rules 2.0 (with expansion).
They have no learning curve at all. All you can do is there, right in front of you, and that's not much. Hence, they're not great, they don't manage something huge, they don't print a single page, ARGH!
But they have an absolute 0 learning curve.
4 years ago, I actually tried CC3. I immediately understood that I didn't understand squat.
I bowed my head in shame and forgot all about it. I even lost the damn software, license and all :-(
Today, eyes full of determination, knuckles white with pressure and resolve, I have decided I'd learn how to use a new mapping software. Will I fail and fall from grace? Will a common passer-by look at me with an air of contempt or will the masses cheer my successes?
You are now a level 11 storyteller. But you remain a lvl-0 apprentice cartographer. Witness your derisive attempts at drawing, as your players turn the map around and discuss if your cartography might be influenced by Picasso's cubism...
I'd recommend poking around the Finished Maps section to see if you find something that you like and then see if there is a tutorial for that kind of map lurking in the Tutorials section. There are many ways to get things done, including straight art programs like GIMP or Photoshop, straight GIS programs (too many to mention), and more specialized tools like Wilbur or Campaign Cartographer 3 / Fractal Terrains. The first step is to decide what you want on your map, including a very rough and ugly sketch. The next step is to decide how you want it to look (the Finished Maps section here is an excellent resource. The step after that is to look through the Tutorials section and see if there's anything that will help you use your tools to help you get moving toward your goal. The last step is to practice over and over and over and over and over until you get something that other people agree isn't too terribly awful (I bringin other people here because you'll lose objectivity pretty quickly during the process).
I've been doing this for years and my results are, well, uninspired. But we often have folks going through here who go from beginner to accomplished in not much time at all!
Waldronate's unnecessary modesty aside his advice is sound. Find something you like find a tutorial and begin. The toughest step is the first one as they say. After you make it the rest will come. You'll wander off the path and find your way back again. Cartography is an art and a skill and one that can be learned. (If I can learn it anyone can) The best advice I can give you is to say that ask for feedback, accept that feedback in the spirit it was given, and LIKE WHAT YOU DO. You'll learn something with every map or every project. Welcome and have fun !! :)
Welcome to the Guild Tovanian. I am in complete agreement with Waldronate and JT here. Once you can get past the learning curve of the sorts of software mentioned by Waldronate (and the tutorials will help you quite a bit here), you'll find that digital cartography is not as difficult as it at first appears. Of course it will take time to get to the point where you are comfortable with the new mediums, but keep on practicing and soon you'll be able to achieve work that will really surprise you.
Welcome to the Guild! Poke around and you can find some tutorials and threads in the vein of "mapping for those with nary an artistic bone in their body". Cartography is both an art and a craft - carefully practiced, the craft angle is learnable, and can produce adequately pleasant and perfectly useable maps.
Roleplaying that long, you will have developed a sense for what fosters a good story -- say, the geographic equivalent of tension in a plot -- as well as an awareness that randomness can be a good thing ; the best-laid plans of a good DM can be trumped by a player tripping over something unexpected, by a wierd dice roll, by a stupid question hastily answered that later has to be retconned into sensibility. That'll stand you in good stead even if your geological plausibility lags.