If you peruse the excellent Cartographer’s Guild forums, you can see that the preferred method of generating random terrain and landforms is to use a cloud generator or some sort of static filter in a graphics program like photoshop or gimp to build up random shapes and curves that can later become continents, rivers, coastlines, and islands.
Instead of this strictly computer based approach, I decided that I wanted to try out a more analog method of making random shapes. Something like like cartography by way of reading tea leaves or a mash-up between Forgotten Realms and a John Cage composition.
So I got out my thick paper, a pencil and eraser and my watercolor kit and set them on the table.
The first step is that I did a quick scribble of large shapes in light pencil marks, crisscrossing, and fiddling around on the surface until some definite forms start to appear on the surface. In art classes, they call this gesture drawing because it is intended to quickly capture the “gesture” or movement of a figure or object without focusing on the details. It is also used to find patterns or random shapes in a composition for later development, which is what we are trying to do.
Once I started to see some continents or land forms “raise to the surface” I stopped my scribbling and took the pencil and slowly jittered a dark line around the coast areas with harder pressure. The slow jitter helped to form a jagged coastline around my previously smoothed out scribble shapes.
After the heavy pencil marks were down on the paper, I started using a big eraser to remove the unwanted light lines and left the darker coastline marks to show the outlines of my continents. You can smudge some of the pencil marks, redraw others, or leave scuffed textures for mountains or plains or stormy areas or what-have-you. It is sort of like a tarot card reading where you just try and fiddle and reinforce what the image before you suggests.
Once the continents had a good outline I took out my water color kit and mixed up some gray color for the mountains and green color for the forests and proceeded to splatter at the continents. I slowly started to aim my splatters where I thought the mountain ranges should go and avoiding splashing into the ocean too much. You can use the brush that came with the water color kit or, if you really want a nice splatter, you can dip an old toothbrush in the mixed color and then run your thumb across the bristles to create the right spray. I mixed and splattered a couple more colors and just generally played around until I was satisfied. I decided that I wanted to have a big forest of red-leaved trees in one region and so I gave it a japanese-maple color splat.
The next step was to finish applying watercolor to the rest of the map. Green for plains and forest areas, grays for polar regions, browns and yellows for arid regions, and blue for the ocean. Watercolor is great because it builds itself up transparently and all the splatters would come through in the final texture. And its fun to make a mess.
So I had my large continent map, but I needed to focus in and pick one area for my fantastical region map and get hexes on the there…
(Continued in part 3)