I'm a big fan of an out of print Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting called Spelljammer. Spelljammer is a (sometimes misunderstood) fantasy setting that takes Dungeons and Dragons adventures into space. Built around Dragonlance, Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms (and Kara-Tur and other FR subsettings) the game wraps worlds in things called crystal spheres. Each crystal sphere contains a number of worlds (which can be of four elemental types) and the game involves the PCs visiting other worlds in the Known Spheres (or exploring strange new spheres). Dozens of worlds have been created (but not fully detailed) by TSR and GMs are also encouraged to sandbox their own planets.
I've been looking at maps drawn by others for a few years now, but need to learn how to make them myself. Robert S. Conley (from Bat in the Attic) has put up some sandboxing tutorials which I hope to adjust to create a process that will help me create (or expand) Spelljammer worlds. Robert has made me realise that I need to design the geography of the world alongside its history and other details. Robert was really only aiming his tutorials at people designing a single world, but I'm going to want to knock out dozens of them (eventually).
BTW: I highly recommend Robert's tutorials, for anyone who wants to flesh out their own world maps, but isn't sure how to do the non-cartographic stuff.
Spelljammer has four types of worlds (based on the elements) and I'm expecting it to be hard to find tutorials for some of the weirder types.
- Earth worlds,
- Water worlds,
- Air worlds and
- Fire worlds.
Earth worlds are terrestrial planets. While some are excessively large or small, I'm figuring that most of the tutorials and experts here will help me with that sort of thing.
Water worlds are worlds that are mostly made from water. They might have floating islands on them or might have underwater cities. I'm figuring there are some people who have mapped things like Atlantis or done maps of sea currents. I'm guessing that regular cartography would be harder to do, but I could add details like bands of plankton or ice caps to make world maps be more than sheets of blue.
Air worlds are usually giant gas planets. They might have rocky islands floating or tumbling in their atmosphere.
Fire worlds are suns, or smaller balls of fire. But being D&D these often have fire creatures living on them. So I might need to make maps for some of them.
If that isn't enough, Spelljammer has some unusual rules for gravity that make it possible for people to walk around on celestial bodies as large as Saturn or as small as asteroids. So the normal geological forces (that shape the land in most maps) may well not apply to a lot of the maps I'll need to create.
And with small objects like asteroids (or the ships that sail in space) having double-sided gravity, I will often be needing to make a pair of maps with mirrored outlines that represent the top and bottom of something.
Spelljammer also allows some weird shaped celestial bodies including:
- Ribbon worlds,
- Dyson spheres,
- Clusters (of asteroids) and
- Any other funky shape that someone can think of.
So I could be needing to make all sorts of maps that break all the normal rules.
Obviously that is a lot to learn. And I want to learn how to make country maps, town maps, building plans and (for SJ the all important) ship deck plans. And Spelljammer needs to have the sort of crystal sphere charts that you would normally see in a sci-fi game, like Traveller. But these need to be rendered in a fantasy style to help sell the fact that SJ is not a SF game.
Needless to say I'm not entirely sure where to start. But looking at Rober S. Conley's tutorials, I think I need to start off with global maps and work down in size.