Feb
07
2018

Working on maps today!

For my Patreon RPG world Arcadia — you can see what I’ve done so far for only a buck a month! — and I pretty much spent the day fiddling with it to in order to learn the basics.  This is a small part of it so far; the quality is much better in the original, trust me.  I’m using Campaign Cartographer for this one, because they allow commercial use and buying it was tax deductible. I mean, people are paying me to do this stuff.  Map-making is a legitimate and recognized part of the roleplaying game supplement experience.

So, yeah, that was what I was doing today.  And it’s not as easy as you’d think.

13 Comments

  • Luke says:

    Do you want to receive criticism?

  • Brian Swisher says:

    Needs more fjords.
    –Slartibartfast

  • nicklevi86 says:

    I highly recommend reading up on Climatology. Not the alarmist bullsh*t they peddle these days, but actual relationship between landforms, air flow, and sea currents. The climates that evolve from that then inform the various cultures that develop, presuming you are still designing an entire planet.
    .
    I.e. The Gulf stream keeping North Europe unusually temperate for the latitude, Rain-shadow deserts, etc…
    .
    .
    .
    (Why yes, my chosen field of Nerd-dom is geography, why do you ask?)

    • acat says:

      Hard to see if this land mass started as “a sand dune with pretensions” or is “a rather worn down volcanic bump” .. the existence of other smaller islands leads me to believe plate tectonics were involved.
      .
      If dormant volcanoes are involved, then .. you really need to see this:
      .
      http://www.pbs.org/programs/sky-island/
      .
      Mew

    • Luke says:

      All that is absolutely true.
      🙂 While also being not very helpful.
      .
      I’ll tackle some specifics below.

      • nicklevi86 says:

        Perhaps not for the specific map in question, I confess, probably not.See note about *entire planet.*
        .
        Scale on Moe’s post would direct us better before we get too far into the weeds. Makes a difference if we’re dealing with Australia or Singapore.

  • Luke says:

    Ok, a three-penny tour through geography basics.
    .
    The first thing is to embrace that everything exists for a reason. You can make all kinds of cool (or ordinary) landscape features, but they all arise by predictable processes. (Of course, your being a fantasy world, you have a bit of latitude here. But most miraculous features will be relatively small.)
    For example, if you want fjords, you need a mountainous region, adjacent to the ocean, that has recently experienced an ice age.
    .
    The NE peninsula is a good way to illustrate this. It’s an unusual shape, but you can totally have something like that. But it’ll have to exist as something like a remnant of a mountain chain.
    And something must previously have caused those mountains to form.
    .
    The first thing that really jumped out at me was the forest. It has no obvious reason to be where it is.
    If the prevailing wind is from the West (it doesn’t HAVE to be, but if the planet is Earth-like, and you’re in a temperate zone, invoke the KISS rule) the windward side of those mountains should be wet and forested, while the leeside of the range should experience the rainshadow effect (it doesn’t *have* to be desert, there are ways to work around it, but again, KISS).
    .
    acat brought up how the continent was formed.
    I’d advise you not to sweat it much. All continental shields are sedimentary (actually, lightly metamorphosed formerly sedimentary rock, but close enough). Extrusive and intrusive igneous rock will appear wherever you have mountain ranges cropping up. Metamorphic rock will appear on the “prow” of the continent as it runs into and accretes islands (virtually everything West of the Idaho border was initially welded onto the continent as an accreted terrain), and wherever existing rock was subjected to large amounts of heat and/or pressure (like orogeny on the extreme end, or just being repeatedly buried and exposed on the mild side).
    .
    Lakes are always temporary geographical features. The water in them comes from somewhere, and wants to go somewhere else. There needs to be inflow to create them, and over time sedimentation will fill them up, or the water will find a way to escape.
    .
    Mountains are formed in a few fashions. The most dramatic is when one tectonic plate smashed into another. But they also appear due to extensional rifting (that is, stresses pulling the continent in opposite directions– look at a topo of Nevada for a good idea of how this type of basin & range orogeny manifests). Due to one tectonic plate subducting another (with volcanoes. The Casades are textbook. Also of the rainshadow effect). There’s also a generalized uplift that causes the roots of ancient mountains worn away by time to be exposed as to sediment filling the gaps is washed away (this can happen a number of times. The Appalachian mountains fit this bill, but so does the section of the Rockies in Colorado.)
    .
    I’ve got more, but I’m out of time for a bit.

    • nicklevi86 says:

      If these things had an up vote button, i’d press it.

    • acat says:

      Hang out at Moe’s, get a geology lesson.
      .
      Truly, the internet is a wonderful thing.
      .
      Thank you for this.
      .
      Mew

    • Moe_Lane says:

      This is good stuff, thanks.

      • Luke says:

        Y’all are most welcome.
        .
        Ok, let me try to chase down my train of thought.
        .
        The water in rivers has to come from somewhere.
        Now, dirt makes an awfully good sponge, and a little bit of rain over a few state miles adds up to thousands of gallons surprisingly quickly. And like a sponge, it will leak out a low point at a fairly constant rate so long as it doesn’t become saturated or mostly dry out. (Yes, I’m deliberately sticking to surface geohydrology. When you start talking about permeable rocks with dip this, strike that, and overlaying the other, it can get screwy in a hurry. Besides, the variable K hurts my brain. But you can have things like hot springs, high pressure springs, or the Big and Little Lost Rivers swallowed by a thirsty rock strata and emerging as Thousand Springs a hundred miles away.)
        Picking up from before the digression… Anywhere that gets good precipitation can spawn streams that join into rivers. But the best place is the mountains, because of snowpack. Show will stick around on the North Slopes of high elevation mountains for most (or all) of the year. South Slopes obviously melt much faster. You get a good flush from the spring thaw, and then a reliable stream for the rest of the year. (You can do it in flatland. But expect a large marshy area or lake to be the source, rather than just emerging from the ground already running.)
        .
        Ok, back to hacking the map.
        Here’s a labor-saving trick.
        Nature is fractal. Coastlines and rivers will look like coastlines and rivers regardless of scale. Find something you like the look of on a map, and just trace it. Or trace segments to get a specific look.
        .
        You’re using a Mercator projection, which is excellent.
        But remember that the map is not the terrain. (It’s hard enough to remember this in real life. It gets more so when the terrain is imaginary.)
        Maps are a 2-D depiction of a 3-D surface made by humans, and will always necessarily have distortions and inaccuracies. The things that can be distorted are: distance, direction, perimeter, and area.
        The Mercator projection is most commonly used because it mostly* limits distortion to area. The coastline will look like the coastline, and sailing across the bay will be the distance and direction depicted. But the area of the bay will necessarily be distorted to accomplish this. You can occasionally use this to hide something in plain sight.
        As to inaccuracies, distances across rough terrain are hard to measure, even if you have good equipment, a high degree of skill, and are trying to be as accurate as possible. When I was young, there were a good 20 yards between leaving Idaho, and entering Nevada. The states were surveyed from an initial point, and all further points were measured relative to it. With each measurement, more error creeps in… In a world without good optics or a reliable way to check longitude, accumulated error will quickly become significant.

        *The projection loses reliability above and below 60° latitude, and becomes virtually unusable above and below 70° latitude.
        .
        One more item that’s really more human nature than geography. People don’t think about *why* things are named as they are. The name is the thing, and that’s all there is to it.
        You’d have to search hard to find someone in Wells, Nevada who knows why the mountain outside of it is named Helen & Dee, even though it’s an entertaining story.
        I lived for a year in Chattanooga, TN, and never found a single person who could tell me *why* Stone Cipher Lake was called that. (Yes, it still drives me nuts. I’m odd like that.)
        In my game settings, players would be extremely well served to translate place names. (Especially after I translate a few initial ones *for* them.) But I’m pretty sure the next player to do so without prompting will be the first. It’s incredibly handy for the GM to have things simply named for obvious reasons with only a light obscuration of dialect or language. You enter darkforest, and approach the monolith of devilsgrip. As GM, that’s enough of a reminder to keep me from having to dive into my notes and slow things down.

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