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Have you ever had one of those maps that started off so clear and easy in your head and then, for some unknown reason, you slam head-first into the brick wall of "It's not working"?

Yeah - that's me with this map.

As you can see it's a fairly easy map. I'm just illustrating an inland lake with a major river coming in from the north and a minor river heading out of it to the south. There will be a few settlements around it which I will indicate with some tower icons I used in a previous map.

Here's my problem(s):

1. I hate forests now. Caves were so much easier. I could just throw a black layer on, darken it, throw in some highlights and some texture and voila; dirt & rock. Forests, however, never seem to look right. For most of my map work they are simply expressed with "Blobby masses of dark green surrounded with a black border". This is, essentially, my way of expressing the idea of a dense forest (with a lighter green layer around it to show the less dense forests). There HAS to be a better way.

2. Labeling. I've been reading up on the forums and even found a tutorial from Torstan (his name be praised) about how to add a 'halo' effect behind the letters to pull them off the page. I totally love the look but my problem is positioning. In the above map you'll see that I have one river label on the river itself, and the other is next to it because the text is too large to fit within the boundaries.

Request:

Anyone have any handy tutorials or tips for how to render forests without going all three-dimensional, isomorphic and such? I just need a way to render 'dense' forest. I think I've gotten the hang of water and rock (for dungeons least) so I assume that there's got to be a similar technique for making 'green blobby thing' look like woods.

Any pointers for label positioning?

Thanks!
-GP