Have you ever wondered how artists create those magnificent looking maps in fantasy novels and roleplaying supplements? Or perhaps you’re looking to add a little something extra to your weekly Dungeons & Dragons campaign? Acclaimed fantasy cartographer Jared Blando has taken the time to create a set of step-by-step instructions on becoming your own fantasy cartographer, all the way from designing coastlines to creating iconography and political boundaries in How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps: Step by Step Cartography for Gamers and Fans. It’s the perfect addition to any Dungeon Master’s array of tricks – if they’re worth their salt anyway.
Map creation, as Blando says, can be done with the barest of materials or with a whole artist’s workshop of tools. He offers advice on pencils, inks, brushes, paints, papers, and even non-traditional tools such as tablets and digital pens. Cartography, it seems, is a hobby that anyone can have, even if their budget is minuscule.
It all starts with deciding on what sort of world you wish to create. Will it be an arid world with large, landlocked countries, or is it a water world with many islands and bays? Blando suggests a good mix of the two and shows you how to create a general outline of your world while slowly filling in details, such as fjords, river inlets, and hidden coves. There are many paths to completing your map, and Blando attempts to cover the most common. There are guides on drawing mountain ranges in several styles, rivers, their tributaries, and how they interact with mountainous areas, forests, hills, lakes, shorelines, even ocean waves.
Once the natural wonders of your world have been established it is time to begin filling it in with civilization, because what is a fantasy map without interesting cities, castles, and kingdoms? The author is kind enough to show how to create simple shapes and turn them into recognizable landmarks using nothing more than some well-placed lines. Typography is briefly covered in order to show how different fonts can show different cultural and political influences on the lands they’re used in, such as using flowing elven script to denote their own lands.
Something many people don’t think of when creating a political landscape is the heraldry, a very traditional form of blazoning arms and armor, which adds an extra air of sophistication and immersion when placed along national and regional boundaries. Blando shows several simple examples of designing shields and standards of different factions in your world, many of which reflect real world political entities.
Next, it comes time to add a bit of color to the landscape. By defining shadows and highlights of different landmarks you can create a sense of depth to your map, as well as drawing the eye to certain important features, such as dragon lairs, battlefields, deserts, or wide open plains. Finally, the finishing touches are applied, such as borders, map legends, a compass rose, or even a simple sign that says ‘here be dragons.’
The last few pages of the book are dedicated to Blando creating an entire map from scratch in order to show you how to apply all of the techniques listed earlier in the book. It’s a nice touch and you can follow along on your own to test out your newly learned skills. Ultimately, How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps is a relatively short read, but one chock full of important information that you are sure to reference again and again. It should be a requirement in any DM’s bag of tricks for sure.