Frost Birch Maps
Creating Fantasy Maps

I started creating fantasy maps for my Dungeons and Dragons campaign by hand many years ago, before computers made it into the home. It was easy to draw rivers with pen and ink and the maps held as much detail as one took the time to put in them. We soon learned less is more in most cases.

Today with modern computer tools I started making maps again, for my online Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Who knew? Making maps for online requires a different set of tools, if you want the detail beyond the pen and paper variety. But creating rivers elluded me. Until I found the secret.

Creating realistic rivers is a chore if you don't have the right tools. Learning how to use those tools is the important part. Using a pressure sensitive drawing tablet is an easy fix to this problem but I don't have one. I found a solution. I will be using GIMP 2.8 for this tutorial because it is easy to learn and free to download, so anyone can follow along.

Though D&D is a theatre of the mind game, having a good map is handy and sometimes essential. Every campaign needs a world map so that is the logical first step. World maps are easier to create than city maps or dungeons, the detail is less and the scale is much larger. Less detail means it is easier and faster to create. So if you need a map quick and you don't really care about the details, then start with a world map.

In this tutorial we will be making a custom map as opposed to a random map build. The map I chose for this tutorial is a close-up portion of the world map for my campaign.

As it is a close-up of an existing map, we'll have to custom draw the coastline so we match that of the original. Trying to match an existing map is full of custom details that we overlook when making a random map. This makes custom maps a wee bit more complicated.

When I was first learning to use GIMP to make fantasy maps, I used filters to warp and texture the land but it created a random textured map that I used as a base and worked from there. It is all well and good when creating random maps but if one wanted to make a custom map with specific features in specific places, the random method will not work.

The steps you go through to make a random map and a custom map are the same at first so I will gloss over the beginning and you can see how I do specifics in other hubs I have written.

I've been making maps for awhile, and when I find a tool to help me, I usually take advantage of it. Lately, I've been learning the in's and out's of GIMP 2.8 for creating fantasy world maps of the photo-realistic type ( see my other hubs for more info). Now I am creating a town map.

The most difficult part of the map making process is coming up with an idea. What does the town or city look like? Where are the buildings? Is there a wall or a river? You know what I mean?

Well, I found a solution.

Creating a Fantasy Dungeon Map with GIMP 2.8

The thing about playing D&D is that it is a sandbox game. You could spend many hard long hour creating an adventure only for the group to not even go that way and basically voiding all the work you've done. In a case like that you need to be able to create a quick adventure that is plausible enough to give the illusion you've spent a goodly amount of time on it.

Having a stock of images for dungeons furnishings is a good idea. There are lots of images available online in places like DevianArt or Dundjinni. With these you can populate a quickly made dungeon you make with GIMP 2.8.