Making a Fantasy Map

When you’re making an RPG or building a fantasy world the map is a very important part. It helps you visualize what you’ve created, and if it is for a game, then it helps players feel immersed in your world. So when Lilly told me she was making her own world along with and RPG system, I was very interested in having a crack at making a map for it.

Now I’m not very experienced in making maps, but I have given it a go on smaller scales before, so here I’m going to go through how i went from a basic sketch on paper to the (mostly) finished map for the land of Dardenia, with plenty of trial and error along the way.

So how did I get from Lilly’s first sketch, to this?

So to begin with I had the drawing you see above. After being told which scribble meant what, and being given some descriptions of each region on the map, I got started by copying the basic outline of the land mass. I then spent some time thinking about the style I wanted to go for. Instead of going for the monotone drawn on parchment look, I decided to go for a bit of a hybrid, so I made a basic texture for the land, and decided to add colour on top of it eventually, starting with the blue seas.


From here I started the long process of cleaning up the outline and forming some more interesting looking coastlines. I added a bunch of small islands in the North to break things up a bit, and highlighted the coast with a lighter blue to make things pop a little bit more.


After this I decided to start on the proper details with the mountains first, which seems logical to me. I took a while to decide on the style of mountains I wanted, and in the end went for something a bit more complex that those you see on most fantasy map designs, which I think turned out pretty nicely. This being a more representative map than a realistic one though, I just put the mountains in those regions that are prominently mountainous, otherwise the thing would get a bit too cluttered.


Then I moved onto other details such as the giant plateau area just North of the mountains, and the outline of a large forest that covers most of the West side. I experimented with different styles for the forest, many of which included drawing little clusters of individual trees everywhere, but I just ended up making it look messy. Instead I decided to make it look like a mostly continuous canopy, with gaps throughout to leave room for rivers or paths. I also touched up the mountains with a couple of snowy peaks.


The rivers came next. There would probably be more complex rivers everywhere but again, this is a more representative map, so I didn’t want it looking too messy. I also added the swampland to the South-West there.


And finally I spent some time adding the colour to the map that I meant to add. Including colouring the trees, adding some green to the more lush grasslands, and adding in the desert and frozen areas. As you can see, a lot of these regions are quite close together, and transitioning them was my biggest challenge, so I still have that to work on. Other than that I will eventually add map markers and place names once that is all figured out.


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