My First Pseudo-Commissioned Work

So I have just finished my first piece for someone else.  I made it for my friend who is a member of my weekly gaming group that I DM for, and after being distracted way WAY too much, I finally completed the work.

He wrote the adventure, I did the map, and another player assembled and formatted it.

The map itself is put together from multiple layers of different textures found on free texture sites–the water, the stone, the wood, the rooftops, etc.  Many many many layers that ended up making the file huge!!  I also used the Dodge and Burn tools to add shadows and highlights in a way I’ve never done before.

I learned a lot.  I’d never assembled a map from room descriptions before…  I kinda liked it and yet I kinda found it incredibly challenging!!!  I learned how much I rely upon “making things up organically” with my other maps, and how difficult it was to work within specific parameters.  I don’t know how other commissioned cartographers do it!  And do it on a schedule.  <groan>


I learned that I often explore and teach myself how to do things as I go along, and that made this particular map really time consuming for me, personally.  I couldn’t just wing it, I had to make choices within specific parameters, and that was hard!!  Haha!!  I had to search and find specific elements that I could manipulate to do specific things!  For example, finding imagery that I could distort and then modify with layer adjustments to make it appear transparent was really challenging.  I had to find specific pictures that would look good distorted, images that I could easily adjust layers to emphasize the waves or highlights, images that I could adjust tonally to recede as they were stacked upon each other without hiding the road underneath it….  On and on…  I finally found imagery that I was happy with, but I had to ensure it was legal to use on top of all that!!

Quite time consuming.  In the end it was still enjoyable, but I was learning to constrain myself into actually creating a thing and not simply somet

hing I was extemporizing.  There were suddenly rights and wrongs, things that were appropriate and inappropriate.  Boundaries.  I couldn’t just play!  I had to play within rules!  And that was new.

I also learned that I don’t necessarily like photo-texture manipulation for cartography.  Yes, I use Photoshop which is perfect for it, but I prefer a more illustrative look.  In the past, I’ve used photographic textures to enhance overall texture and give the piece a grainy look, rather than using them for what they actually are.  I like the stylization of drawing and painting rather than the specificity of realism.

But it took me making this map to fully understand that.  And I’m grateful I did.  It’s done!

You can find the finished work for sale on DMsGuild soon, and I’ll let you know about the listing when my friend finally posts it.  But for right now, enjoy the preview!  🙂

Using Digital Maps on the Cheap

I have never played RPGs online.  I have always played in person.  Most of my experience has been with Organized Play, and those games are often played around a table with a random group of players.  I’ve played in game stores, mostly, until almost 2 years ago when I started my own game outside of the context of Organized Play (like Adventurers League, i.e.”AL”) with a gaming group of my own.

The maps provided for use with the adventures in AL were easily reproduced on dry- or wet-erase gaming mats.  A person could even print them out on paper if one had the capacity to do that.  As a DM, I sometimes printed them at home on my inkjet printer using PosteRazor and assembled them like puzzle pieces so I could bring them to my tables.  The larger printed book adventures sometimes had map packages that could be purchased from professional fantasy cartographers like Mike Schley and Jared Blando.  These maps were often used for playing online in Virtual Tabletop (VTT) programs and platforms like Fantasy  Grounds and Roll20.
But purchasing those supplements and rulebooks required a laptop to use them, and I didn’t have one of those.  Plus, I didn’t want to be sitting around using my laptop during a D&D game because I was purposely playing in-person to avoid the necessity of doing so.

But I yearned for something that could enable me to use “Fog of War” in a table-top setting with my friends, using whatever maps I had.  I coveted the setups that so many were developing, but couldn’t bring myself to invest in a laptop to take advantage of them.  Nor did I want to plunk down hundreds of dollars to use a very narrow range of each product’s full capacities.

Now I have something.  InfinitasDM.

This inexpensive $10 app is available for use on an Adroid or iOS phone or pad.  It’s also available on Steam.  I downloaded it to my phone, bought a $40 Chromecast device to hook up to my old non-smart 42″ LCD TV, and made a frame out of scrap 1×3″ wood and sheet rock screws.

Voila!  $50 later I have whatever digital map I want.  With Fog of War.


This app has more capabilities than my group uses, but it’s perfect for what we need.  As DM, I can use my phone to reveal the parts of the map covered by the Fog as they go explore without having to draw it.  I can scale it up and down to whatever size I need.  I can also add a grid over maps if they don’t have one.  I can use any map I can download into my phone’s photo collection.  (The image above has a map of Castle Ravenloft purchased from  The players put their tokens/minis on the surface of the TV itself, moving them themselves without having to have an computer/phone interface as well.  They roll their own dice, and we don’t rely upon the program to figure out random encounters or populate cities or whatever…

For us, this is the perfect integration of digital and pen-n-paper mapping.  And it was cheap.  $50.  This is going to save me so much on printing costs it isn’t even funny.  And I can now create maps for my own use without needing to worry about whether they’re going to reproduce in print like I see them on the screen–I can actually make them for the screen instead.

I’m beyond excited!  And I had to share.  I think this app may be a cheap alternative that caters to the pen-and-paper crowd, which could be quite useful for Organized Play situations.

An Ode to Visual Aesthetics

It’s not often that I actually get to use the materials I purchase on Dungeon Masters Guild.  Hnestly, there’s a lot of stuff there, but not stuff that I can actually use without completely rebuilding the campaign I currently run.  I don’t have the time to completely build a campaign from the ground up, so I use the commercially available pre-written campaigns that Wizards of the Coast publish–I’ve run parts of Horde of the Dragon Queen, all of Princes of the Apocalypse, and currently my group is playing through Curse of Strahd.  We skipped Rage of Demons because it took us that long to get through PotA, and I’m willing to bet we may skip the upcoming Storm King’s Thunder as well.

full20example1_zpsblk8fitmBut I purchased RoD anyway.  And I’ll probably purchase SKT, too.  Even though I’ll probably never DM them.

They offer great inspiration (albeit my capacity to integrate it is limited) and I like reading them.  But that’s all they are–reading material.  They are, at a very basic level, sort of like a play to me–they include all the “lines” but it’s very different when you actually act it out.  I let my imagination run wild and contemplate what it would be like to actually experience the adventure’s situational contexts.

But that’s all I’m going to get out of them, and part of how I appreciate them is to enjoy their physical appearance and artwork.

So…  to the point: If you aren’t using the material, shouldn’t you enjoy the process of reading it?  Shouldn’t it, aesthetically, be a book where the process of reading it is fun?

I think that’s an important part of the quality of a product.  And thus I feel that the appearance of a product is important.  And I enjoy reading things that look pretty more than I enjoy reading things that have simple bare-bones generic packaging.

So to thatfullexample4_zpszxwvtwpf end, I’m trying to create artwork and other materials that can help enhance the appearance of a product on Dungeon Masters Guild.  Because I’m pretty sure that most of the material purchased through that site probably doesn’t get used in its entirety.  So if you’re gonna plunk down a buck or two, why not expect it to be an enjoyable read?  And it’s a medium that has the capacity to be visual beyond the rudimentary text.  Why not expect it to be visually stimulating?

My favorite products on the One Book Shelf family of RPG product sites are always the ones where it is obvious the creators have acknowledged the visually component of the product.  Illustration goes a long way to address this–pictures and artwork that visually support the text by literally showing what the text is addressing.  Is there a picture of an NPC?  A specific location?  A magic item?  I love those products.  It helps me understand what I’m reading, and I comprehend it on a deeper level.

But purchasing illustrations and art is expensive and time consuming.  It’s an investment.  What if you simply can’t afford it, but want your work to look better than a dictionary or Wikipedia article?

2example4sm_zpsmuqplvaeThat’s where you insert backgrounds and design elements that make your work at least one step above the ordinary.  Products that have a graphic design beyond the freely available template tend to stand out.  They’re appreciated in a different light, and the ideas presented are communicated and respected differently.  A carefully contemplated graphic design can be the difference between coming off as someone throwing something at the wall to see what sticks and a serious creative.

Regardless of how much you address the visual component of your product, and what product you use to do so, know that your attention to it (or lack thereof) can sometimes speak volumes about your capacity to express yourself and ultimately how much you are invested in your material.  Don’t let a lack of know-how undermine your work.  Explore your options.  Become inspired!  Ask questions!

In the end, your work will not only be useful, but the experience of reading it will be a pleasurable one.  And your consumers will thank you!




Imagery for Layout on DMsGuild

Not everyone is a graphic artist.  Not everyone has skills in layout.  Not everyone is familiar enough with the powerful programs that help a product look professional.  Sometimes, we have to work with the skills we’ve got.

Dungeon Masters Guild has a basic template they provide for writers who are looking to format and publish the material they’ve worked hard to create.   Originally made for Microsoft Word, there are now several templates created by the community for a wider variety of programs–Adobe InDesign, Pages (here and here), Scrivener, OpenOffice, Scribus, etc.

plexamplerright3_zpsox8csmh9But unless you know one of those programs it’s difficult to use them.  Most folks I know are familiar with Microsoft Word, but don’t have much experience in more advance and powerful programs that enable more flexibility and creative expression.  When it’s hard enough to get your Microsoft Word document to behave the way you want it to, how on earth is one going to tackle conquering the capabilities of something like Adobe InDesign?  Who has time to learn all that?

It’s for those folks that I’ve created imagery to put behind your text, and make it look like it has been formatted in a different program.

We’ve all seen imagery from our favorite RPG plexampleleft3_zpsre1661nhproducts, and the popular style currently involves making pages look like there is a texture to them–old parchment, wrinkled pages, stains, grunge, and a sense of use.  There’s also a “framing mechanism” that often cradles the text around the edges of the pages–filigree in the corners around the page numbers or a line that defines the outer edge of the page. This gives the package itself a sense of character, and helps the reader not become fatigued with the amount of tiny text that’s in front of it. It actually makes things easier to read (in some ways) if it’s not distracting.  Too much can be detrimental.  Too little can make reading a chore if there’s nothing but blocks of text…

plexampleleft4_zpsqxasfssvBut similar imagery can be achieved without needing to learn a graphics program to make it yourself.

The various Layout Elements packs are filled with pictures you can insert behind your text to give it a bit of life.  The 22 images in each pack are centered around a color–Blood Red, Phantasmal Purple, Bleak Blue, Grungy Green, and Burnished Brown.  Within each pack there are two basic pages that only have the framing lines on a white background.  The other 20 images have artistically placed paint swatches with the framing lines that can be inserted behind your text in various places to help break up the visual monotony of a document with too much white space.  A simple plexampleleft2_zpsm3rafcrwtransparency adjustment to make them receded into the background is all that’s needed.

While each burst of painted color on each page is lovely, I would encourage you to use the basic pages for the majority of your layout as the paint strokes can start to feel repetitive and artificial if you keep using them.

To use them with the Microsoft Word template in Word 2008, insert the image and right click it.  Choose “Format Picture”.  In that menu, select “behind the text” in Formatting, then click on Advanced Formatting settings. From there you should adjust the Transparency (knowing that Transparency doesn’t mean “opacity” in Microsoft plexamplerright3_zpsidgmpzrdWord–the image will get lighter as it becomes easier to see through), indicate that the image matches the size of the page you’re putting it on, and arrange it with an Absolute Value of 0″ both horizontally and vertically, aligned with the Page (not a Paragraph).  These settings will ensure your image looks like it’s in the background.  More current versions of the program may have different avenues to achieve the same thing.

Each of the images is a 8.5″ x 11″ JPG at 150dpi, per the specs suggested by the DMsGuild when creating your PDF documents of your work for upload.

To get a more advance look (like using multiple images on the same page) you may need to move to a different program.  A more current version of Microsoft Word than 2008 may allow you to overlap multiple images and still use text.  Some great imagery to use in addition to these layout images are the paint swatch iconography images found in Graphic Elements for Adventures I, Graphic Elements for Adventures II, Graphic Elements for Adventures III, and Graphic Elements for Adventures IV.  All of this imagery features paint stroke graphics that echo the page layout thematic style.

Regardless of how you use these (in whatever program), they’re yours to use for your DMsGuild products!  Perhaps they can provide inspiration for your own work!

Good luck!  And happy formatting!



Graphic Design in Adventures

tankardbrown_zpsjeyd0gw3Let’s face it–art for RPGs is expensive. It’s time consuming, difficult to arrange sometimes, and isn’t always exactly what you want when it’s completed. There is available art for use in material that’s marketed exclusively on Dungeon Masters Guild, but that artwork is already becoming overused and isn’t always useful within the context of the material it is supposed to support. Finding artists in the first place isn’t usually a problem, but a single illustration can sometimes break the bank.

So what’s a driven, zealous, creative RPGer supposed to do?  Learn to draw?

arrowsblue_zpsdvjqa5osWell, some have done just that. But that approach takes time. And it’s really difficult for most RPG creatives to wear all those hats–writer, editor, play tester, layout technician… A person needs to be an artist, too? On top of all that?!?

Sometimes you just can’t do it all.

And once a creator has their material completed and they need to format it to publish it on the site?  There is a template that can assist you with the layout. WotC has published it for free on the DMsGuild and included a template for Rich Text Files as well as two different versions of Microsoft Word. There are also  versions up there for Adobe InDesign, OpenOffice/LibreOffice, Scrivener, two different ones for Pages 5 (here and here), and Scribus 1.5.1.


But the supplied format looks terrible by itself.  Rather like generic packaging from the 1970s and 80s, this template does what it’s supposed to do but not much else…

On top of that, learning different layout programs can be daunting.  The templates provided are designed to provide the basics, but it takes some knowledge of the programs they’re used in to really take advantage of all the options available and make your product shine.  Not everyone has the time (or the budget) to learn the ins-and-outs of the programs for the templates.  That’s yet another hat…

So what does a person do when they can’t really afford appropriate art, and they don’t have the skills to do it themselves?

They should ponder graphics.

3example4_zpslldfwh5yWhat is the difference between graphics and illustration? In my opinion both are art, but one is substantive and delivers visual information to the reader of the material through visual means, the other doesn’t. Graphics aren’t specific enough to the material to do much more than assist in breaking up the huge blocks of text that a header or boxed section can’t. They add to the feeling, mood, and theme of the material, but they don’t indicate specifically called out elements of the text.

Graphics are a bit easier to achieve. One doesn’t need a great deal of artistic skill.  One can rely upon design programs to create visually interesting but non-obtrusive materials that can slip in between the paragraphs when appropriate, linger in the background, help create mental “partitions” to assist the reader’s comprehension of the text, and generally shape the overall feel of the published work.

2example4sm_zpsmuqplvaeA huge amount of the published RPG material written today features text formatted in columns with an interesting background. There are sometimes interesting little pictures scattered around the book (mostly at the beginning and ending of sections or between component pieces of chapters) or used to frame the text at the top or bottom or side. Currently (thanks to Wizards of the Coast) 5E’s graphic theme elements seem to feature artistically torn edges of paper or pools of watercolor stains that age the paper and give the text character. There’s a visual texture behind the words that goes with framing lines along the side and bottom that help constrain the pages. It provides unity and clarity, and is visually appealing.

So that’s what I’ve set out to do: provide graphics that a writer can easily use to spruce up their formatted text and provide a visual package that shows off what they’re trying to express with their own creativity.

I’ve created 4 packages of generic iconography that is silhouetted (in most cases) with artistic paint strokes and watercolor stains. Doing the same image in 5 different colors (red, purple, blue, green and brown), each pack ultimately contains 50 different images (10 different icons in 5 colors each).  200 different images. They can be found here:3example2_zpsl4budgxi

Graphic Elements for Adventures I –Iconography includes single swords, crossed swords, single battle axe, crossed battle axes, a flame, a wagon wheel, a helmet, a shield, a tower, and arrows.

Graphic Elements for Adventures IIIconography includes an eagle, a horse, a lion, a wolf print, 2 ravens, 2 wolves, a skeleton, and a stag.

Graphic Elements for Adventures III Iconography includes five different spiders, a partial tree silhouette, a jungle leaf, a tankard, a single eye, and a pair of eyes.

Graphic Elements for Adventures IVIconography includes a ghostly apparition creature, a maple leaf, a set of mushrooms, a skeletal rider, a skull, a tombstone, 3 different trees, and a spider web.

All of the iconography is public domain.  Each PNG image file is 5×5″ at 300dpi.

Even in the basic template provided for Microsoft Word, these images can be inserted behind the text (with the transparency adjusted) or in line with it so the text wraps around an image.  Word being the program it is, it’s difficult to do much more than that and you might have to learn a more advanced program with a steeper learning curve (and more time invested) to achieve more advance looks.  But on a basic level, your layout can look intriguing and visually pleasing if you use the imagery in the right way.

So when you’re looking for imagery to help you flesh out the layout of your particular published material, ponder using a piece of graphic art.  The examples in this post and at the links demonstrate their versatility and effectiveness when trying to create a mood.  They are simple, artistic, interesting, and as receding or pronounced as you prefer for your piece.  An effective visual package makes your text more interesting and effective psychologically, and can ultimately increase your sales.  Think about it!

New Items on Dungeon Masters Guild

So I actually did it.  Quite a while ago in fact, and I am just now getting around to posting about it.

I’ve made some things available on Dungeon Masters Guild.

The first item I’ve put up there is a supplement called Amber Waves of Grain featuring my map of Goldenfields in the Forgotten Realms setting for use with Wizard’s of the Coast’s Princes of the Apocalypse.

It took a while, and I needed the assistance of my husband Jonathan to get the PDF layout and formatting looking polished and professional.  I haven’t made a fortune (I posted it back in February, I think) but anything has been better than a stick in the eye.  Since then, I’ve managed to create some graphics and other material that I’m hoping will take off eventually.

But until then:

From the item description:

“Here’s a new map of Goldenfields, the Breadbasket of the North, with supplementary material to inspire your adventures among the farmers!  Intended for use in conjunction with Princes of the Apocalypse™, it contains an original map of Goldenfields that can be printed 3 different ways (with hex versions!), a 16-page booklet guide of descriptions for the entire facility and operating structure, and mentions a few key NPCs.  It also contains adventure seeds and plot ideas for how you can use the material to jump-start developing your own adventures, and a few thoughts on dovetailing it into campaigns based on both Tyranny of Dragons™ and Rage of Demons™. 

The highly detailed map comes in 6 different versions:

     • A letter-sized image

     • A letter-sized image with a hex grid

     • A poster-sized map that can be printed at large scale

     • A poster-sized map with a hex grid that can be printed at large scale

     • A 20-page print-and-assemble-at-home version that can be printed on your own home printer resulting in a 32″ x 51″ poster

     • Another 20-page print-and-assemble version with a hex grid that can be printed on your own home printer resulting in a 32″ x 51″ poster

The 16-page guide contains descriptions of various hamlets around the collectivized farming facility, plot threads to expand on for your own adventures, and explanations of just exactly how Goldenfields can be the largest operating farm on Faerün!

This variant supplement is intended for those DMs who like to have resources without being railroaded, who like to flesh out scenarios themselves and even incorporate the unique and unusual monsters they’ve discovered or created on their own.  This material is suitable for all levels and PCs, and offers story seeds that can keep your players busy for several adventures, as well as keep them coming back as they play other Wizards of the Coast published adventures.”


Goldenfields: The Breadbasket of the North

Well, I finally made another map for my own gaming needs. Because so many of the resources I use don’t have the awesome maps that I have come to desperately crave for my tables (hehe), I had to start making my own. And that one simple step was enough to thrust me into the cartography world and make mapmaking an addiction… <sigh>… And so I fell–hard–into the hedonistic pit of zen joy that is mapmaking. And this is the latest one I’ve put together.

A few words:
This piece is something entirely out of my own head, working with the descriptions in the adventure my group is running through right now–Princes of the Apocalypse.
There is no map of Goldenfields in that adventure. It’s supposed to be a huge, 20+-square-mile farm–the largest farm in the region. What makes Goldenfields so unique is that it’s all within a wall that is protected by the druids and farmers that operate Goldenfields. Their harvests are well known in the region, and they provide a huge amount of grain and foodstuffs to Waterdeep, several hundred miles to the south and the largest city in that campaign setting’s world.

Goldenfields is a giant shrine dedicated to the goddess Chantea of the Forgotten Realms pantheon. The druids and priests that live there help administer the farming in her name. The 5,000+ inhabitants of Goldenfields are spread out within that huge retaining wall, which is patrolled by hired adventurers and sell swords. There is no interest in expanding from an “imperialistic” perspective, but instead from the desire to enhance crop-making capabilities and increase the amount harvested every season.

As such, the orginal lands that belonged to Goldenfields have slowly annexed surrounding lands and expanded their walls. The are several fortifications along the perimeter, which has expanded over generations. Several gated access points permit travel in and out of the stronghold. At any given time, several dozen adventurers of a variety of different classes help patrol the lands within and without the walls.

Goldenfields itself is nicknamed “The Breadbasket of the North” because it primarily grows wheat which is used to make bread. But they also grow corn, nuts, various fruits and vegetables, and have the largest orchard on the Sword Coast. They tend several herds of animals for pork, beef, mutton, milk, and wool. While their primary goal is the farming of grains, they are very aware that the rotation of seasons allows other crops to be harvested in the name of Chantea as well.

Small hamlets have developed throughout the stronghold as the need for easy access to different crops necessitated a closer proximity to the fields. These hamlets have names, but are far from official “towns”. They often lack facilities and merchants that might be common place in other villages, such as inns, blacksmiths, wheelrights, magic users, etc. For these necessities, most of the inhabitants travel to Goldenfields proper. There they can acquire healing as well as any sundries they might require.

Water comes from a divinely wrought spring under Goldenfields proper that supplies the region. Clever priests created an aqueduct that carries the water south among the surrounding higher elevations.

This particular map is something I threw together in about 8 hours. It’s not perfect, but it’s functional. It’s enough to give players an idea of the magnitude of the area they’re in. My players like illustrations and maps, so I think this will be an interesting one for them. Feel free to use it as you will!


So my second attempt at a town map for my own D&D campaign was a lot different.

Again, I used the tutorial I found on the Cartographer’s Guild as a base, but I really stepped outside of the box and put in some hand-drawn elements.  this particular endeavor was all about Layers for me.  I had a LOT of layers–upwards of 70!  And I learned that I had to change the file type in order to not let my computer slow down so much that it was unusable, which led me to .psb files, Photoshop’s Large Document Format files.  This was the first time I created an image using that particular file type.

As a result, it has become very difficult to actually share all the detail in the work, since the file has to be so big in order to actually see all the tiny little things I put in the file…

Westbridge is another town that isn’t really fleshed out very well in the pre-written campaign I’m using (Princes of the Apocalypse if you want to know).  It goes through a bit of a “journey” as the story develops, but I won’t give too much away…

But before that happens, there’s the potential that my players may end up visiting it.  And I wanted to be prepared.  There’s less of a reason for them to go there, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

And it was an excuse for me to practice and expand my Photoshop skills even more!  🙂

There is no bridge in Westbridge.  It is a town that is the “Gateway to the West”.  It has more churches than Beliard  has (my first “town” map), and less affluent citizens, but it’s still a key locale on that same east-west trade route that Beliard exists on.  This one, however, is on the western side of the valley, where Beliard was on the eastern side.

Again, only a hand full of NPCs are described.  And even less text that describes the town itself.

So I dove in, making it a community that I got to define myself!

I decided visually, this particular map would have less “pre-packaged” elements than the Beliard map.  I would follow the tutorial’s instructions, but I also wanted to make it my own. I added a lot of hand-drawn layering, fleshing out textures in ways that I hadn’t before, and really investing my drawing skills on a cliff face on the western side of town.

As I alluded, I had a lot of layers going on, and that meant there was a lot of detail.  I inserted hitching posts, clothes lines, water troughs, wells, shadows on the ground, high spots, textures in the roads, etc.  I even put apples and lemons in the trees.  And a magic “henge circle” high on the cliff, rife with opportunities for adventurer abuse…  hehe…

But because I’m a file-noob, all that detail is really difficult to share if you can’t post it in all its glory.  The file ended up being 2 gbs,  and that is really quite large…  I’m hoping that the image below is big enough to help indicate all that detail even if it can’t outright show it entirely.

I learned a lot on this map.  How big is too big.  Starting with an understanding of how far down the rabbit-hole you want to go so things don’t devolve outside of one’s control is a good idea, and adapting one’s illustrative style to accommodate.  Better color palette.  I think the map itself comes across as a bit more organic by virtue of the hand drawn elements.  I made a lot of my own brushes for the first time.  I also added a Key for all the locations.

Here it is:

Westbridge with Key

I’ve also made a brighter version without the key (but with the numbers on it still for easy table reference) that might print out a little better. It is very large, (over 50 mb) so be prepared if you decide to download it.

Westbridge Brighter

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I use a particular program called PosteRazor to print these out at home.  It allows you to scale them up however big you want, then it creates a PDF file that can be easily printed out on individual sheets of paper on your own home printer, allowing you to tape them together into one large piece.  It’s free, so you can’t beat that.  🙂

Anyway, there it is!  🙂

Whew!  Onto the next project!

Beneath Kekise Map

So I have completed my first map.  It went through some permutations…  I had originally hoped to make some notations on the map itself from some thief who originally stole the map from it’s source, and escaped as the last member of his party…  I had his notes on the map with little symbols he had drawn to indicate what was in each room.

But the idea didn’t match my capacity to execute it in reality.

It ended up looking somewhat muddy.  Too many small details and too many poorly drawn “notes” made the map look hokey.  And I tried to make it look like he hadn’t taken very good care of the map, so I stained it and added water smudges and such.  But in the end, it was starting to get even darker and less clear, so I trashed that idea.


Before I did, I tried to go even further…


But nothing I could do could fix it.  I tried different fonts, different locations of each notation… nothing worked to my eyes.  Finally, I gave up, and decided the map had enough history as it was–the staining added age, and I figured it would still read as an “old” map.

I settled on emphasizing the story of the one who found it in the archives, a simple archivist I name Grinin Fiver.  I felt that he probably found the map, labeled it appropriately and cataloged it, then forgot it.

And back into the vaults it went.  I added a stamp, changed fonts yet again, and settled on a few notes he might have added, instead of the thief’s.  I took out all the detail in the map itself, and pondered the idea that a set of players using this would have information about the cave’s outline, but nothing about what was actually in each area…  And I thought that might be fun!

So I settled on this:


And I think, ultimately, this is a better choice. It’s simpler, and gets things out of the way so the real action can happen within the map’s delineated areas.

I imagine that this map might be a deeper level of a dungeon, between a more excavated area and the ultimate big boss in some hidden grotto somewhere–perhaps beyond the water?  There aren’t any entrances or exits on this map, which might be telling to an astute adventurer.  There are not stairs, no internal detail.  I think that might amp up the paranoia for players, eh?  Who knows where this map came from.  Who knows how old it actually is?  Who knows what culture uses the (almost sic-fi) symbology present on the map before Grinin “rediscovered” it and then processed it away into oblivion?

There are all kinds of RPG hooks possible for this map.  I hope someone finds it useful!  🙂

A Cave of My Own

I have been really inspired by the work I’ve seen on the Cartography Guild’s website, and I”m starting to look at maps and cartography in a different light.  I was able to go back to some of my inspirational artists (Like Jared Blando) and look at their work in a different way, with a lot more appreciation.

For example, I have learned that doing a Neat Line (the alternating color boarder that helps indicate the map’s scale) is not an easy thing to do, depending on the program one is using.  I played around and figured out how to do one, but I never realized how much time they take.  And a compass rose–those are as unique to each map and indicatory of the flavor of what you’re seeing as a thumbprint, I think.  So much of a map’s artistic style is indicated in the packaging of it,  and all those things are “content” that I hadn’t really paid attention to.

I started to develop a map of my own because I couldn’t not do something with all the inspiration I was getting.  I plopped down to a fun session of map-making last night, and drew a touch sketch of a cave.  As the drawing started to evolve, I still had no idea what might be in there–what kind of  creature would use it and for what purposes.


I started to plow forward trying to create a pretty “packaging” that would at least flesh out the visual aspects of the map.  I added shading, a grid, crosshatching, some textures, a background…  And while I was doing that, I  finally started wondering what this subterranean cave might contain.  And a story started to evolve.  The parchment textures I was applying to each layer informed me that I should make things “watercolor-ey”, and bleed out some of the colors into different areas.  And that was the key to figuring out the story behind the map in my head.


I started to realize that not only did the cave itself have a story, but the map of the cave also had a tale.  That the map probably started out in the hands of its makers to serve a very different function than the purpose the latest holder had when it came into his possession.  I think this map was stolen by a dungeon delver of some kind, and over time it has developed notations over the top of the original markings made by the map’s original makers.

So that meant I needed to make “original” symbology,  and then be prepared to layer over the top of that the scrawled notations of the man who stole it away.  And I realized it could tell a bit of a story, this map.  It’s history could inform how it is used by the current band of adventurers to whom it has ended up.


So there are several things I want to do at this point.  I added a border, but I don’t have a neat line yet (well, what I think is called a “neat line”…  I may be getting terminology mixed up there…). Nor do I have a compass rose yet, or title block.  But I’m wondering if all those things have been added after the fact by the ones who came to posses the map after it was stolen.  I wonder if this map isn’t a couple decades, if not a hundred years old…

Regardless, it’s a start.  It has taken me about 3 hours to develop this so far (I’m relying upon a lot of Photoshop tricks and brushes and layering effects) so it’s moving along at a steady clip.  Still don’t have a name for this yet, but we’ll see what evolves.  I plan on putting in more details, so I think the name of the cave is actually going to come from the man who stole it, and that might have to do with some of the details he remembered and wrote down on the map after he escaped with it.  We’ll see.  🙂