This is the fifth installment in my series of posts on making a sandbox-style region map using automatic drawing methods and vintage Judges Guild random tables. We have gone through these steps so far:
- Create a nebulous outline of a continent map with scribbles and loose pencil drawing.
- Use a cheap watercolor kit to randomly splatter our map with terrain colors and then paint in all remaining white paper with chosen color areas.
- Make a high resolution scan of our loose painting and zoom in on a region to map.
- Use free graphics software to place a hex grid on our chosen map region.
- Use old Judges Guild random tables and maybe a computer script to roll our encounters for each hex and determine if they are a Village, Castle, Ravaged Ruin, or Lurid Lair.
- Draw in loose roads to connect villages and castles with compatible alignments.
- Start to think of the narrative reasons for differences in alignment and race between populated areas.
What we have so far is a map like this:
We have come to a loose understanding of an adventuring region of about the size of New York State or just shy of the surface of Oregon. We know where the major attractions and mysteries lay. We know which ones are bad/chaotic and which ones are good/lawful. We don’t have their names or their specific details, but these can be rolled up on the fly as the PCs travel through the land. What we really need is a solid chunk of tight territory with more information that can serve as a home-base region for a new campaign.
I am in some old red-box style campaigns that have stretched for multiple years of play and I don’t think we ever got the itch to strike out overland, long distance, all at one go. It is always a gradual expansion of known territory. Maybe the big sweeping exploration is for level seven and higher, where you can fend off the frightening probability of OD&D wandering dragons, but I know that a “Keep on the Borderlands” or “Nentir Vale” size area is a good starting point for a beginning campaign.
The time has come for us to draw in some hard features on a hex by hex basis. We need to name our places, determine our inhabitants, and find their relationships to drive the interests of our players that stalk the six-sided wilderness.
For this next step, we need to use our digital wizardry to zoom in even more. I picked a likely spot, as shown by the red outline above, and cropped down. Like my first printed region map that I used to mark encounters on before, I made a letter-sized inkjet print of my image. The numbered hexes are still in place from when I overlaid the main region map. I clipped a piece of clear acetate over the print-out and used a technical pen to doodle in my features. You can draw directly on the printout if you desire, I just drew on the transparencies so I could scan the doodles in again and layer it cleanly over my map in my graphics program. At this point you could even remake the entire map using your own digital cartography brushes in GIMP or other mapping programs of your choice. But, as you can probably tell, I like the touch of the hand so I went at it and came up with this:
The first thing that I did was to consult my main region map and find out where my encounters were. I made up a consistent little map symbol for Castles with a little tower , Lairs with a little cave, Ruins with some crumbling structure, and Village hexes had some square dots that seem to indicate a building plan. I admit that the villages look a little unclear but I was trying to ape the B&W cartography of the Wilderlands Of High Fantasy Maps and failed. I like my little towered city better in the center.
After the main encounter symbols went down, I connected villages and some castles with road systems represented by dashed lines. I tried to imagine the paths of least resistance while traveling through the splotchy terrain and then also started to put rivers, mountains, and forests in where I thought the color of the paper demanded it. Notice how I put a high pointy mountain symbol on all the dark gray watercolor spots and then the smaller hill features around the other rough spots. In the process, I saw a yellow patch of earth on the south-east corner of the map and decided that some hills would form a rain-shadow over an arid section of the region. I guess I have some rudimentary weather patterns now.
The rivers should be placed so they are always flowing downhill in some manner, so I usually started them in mountains or hills and had them flow through or by villages on their way to the ocean. Creating the roads first reminds you to draw in a bridge or a ford in the waterways when you need to. It is better to put the information on the map so you won’t forget about it later. I made a shadowy outline of the forest and decided it would represent a real thick wood. There would be trees and sparse copses in many hexes but I wanted the big green spots to be unbroken forests. All the blank hexes would be either plains, or scrub, or grasslands, or gentle hills. I guess I could also come up with symbols for those hex types but I liked the effect of the color popping through the map.
So there, I had my complete home-base region all mapped out. All I needed to do now was make a dungeon or three, name some villages and inhabitants, figure out who occupied the ruins, castles, and lairs and then create some relationship maps to goad the PCs into investigation or activity. (Village A is bothered by lair B, castle C is guarding ruin D, etc.)
The drawing and symbols are not all consistent or neat, but I was doodling directly without practicing much so I think it came out alright considering. The information that the map contains is what is important. You shouldn’t have to worry about how your map looks unless your players are going to see it, like a handout map.
So tune in for the sixth and final part of my sandbox mapping posts… the Player Handout Map.