Saturday, June 18, 2016

Making Mor-Tir

The continent of Mor-Tir is home to humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, lizardmen, and various other creatures both pleasant and foul; I have a lovely map of the area, but it didn't start in nearly such a beautiful way.

I have a habit of doing almost everything that requires planning in three steps:

First, I write out my raw, unfiltered, unmoderated thoughts in a basic text editor with a fixed-width font. Snips of stories, broken up with names and places, and interjections like "hang on this is cool let me just wr". Yes, I will leave off in the middle of a word to write down a different thought somewhere else. That's how creativity starts. You should take notes. And yes, when I say that I write everything in a text editor, I mean it - that includes maps.

Second, once I have organized my thoughts into something cohesive, I transfer then from the text files into one of two places: a spreadsheet, or a document. And again, yes, this includes maps. When I built the map of Mor-Thir, it began as nothing but text. To convert it to a hex map, I copied the text into a spreadsheet, and with some careful magic (meaning cells spanned just so, and a lot of links), I converted the basic, square, text map into something a little less basic and much less square.

Third, I move things from spreadsheets and documents into their final form, usually custom programs designed to do the thing I was doing before. Documents and spreadsheets become PDFs, hex maps, art, and printouts.

Let me show you how the map of Mor-Thir progressed. First, I made a text map - just letters and numbers and characters:

. Shoreline/beach  , Divider  % Storm   ^ Mountain/cliff
/ River            { Lake     x City    R Ruin
r Road             # Forest   & Jungle  s Swamp
n hills            A Spire

...             ,             ^      ^    ^^  ^^^^^^^^^
  :             ,                   ^^   ^ ^ ^^^^^^^\^^^^
   :           ,   %% %%               ^    ^     ^/^\^^^
    :        ,,   %%%%%                  ^^^x^^^^_/^^^^^^^.
     :      ,    %%A%%            ^^^^^^/ ^^^^^\^x:.
     :      ,   % %%%                  ^ ^^^^^x |^^^^^^^^\_:
      :....,x                ^     ^^^ _/^A^^/^^^^^:
          :                     ^^^^^ /^^^^^|x  ^^^^
         :                 #             ^^^ /^^^^^  \r    ^^
        ^^      ,,,       ##        ####   _/  ^^^   r\_    :
    ...:  ^    ,   ,              ########{ }##R^^   r/x\    :
   :       ^  ,  R  ,,^,,        ########{__}### ^^ x/  r\   :
  : ## ### s  ,   -      ,       #######/x##### r=rr{_}  r\x:
  :####### ss  ,   -      ,       #####/r####  r |x r\   r:.
  :x---##  sss ,    -     , #   rrrrrr=r#r#   r# \\_ x\_ r  :
 :  ###-------,-----A--   , rrrr #####|###rrrr ## \_\###\__ :
 : ####### sss,s   -   --, r    #####/###    #r   ##\_\#r\x:
 :   ####Rsssss,s -     ,-r  ########\###      rx#####\\ .:
  :      sssssss,-s  ss, r r  ########\#        r######\^
   :      sss ss-&,ss,,&r  #x ########/ #       r#### ^^
   :       s   s&&&,,&&r&&  #  ##### / #x        r     ^
   :         --&&&&&&r&&&&&&  # # R_/        n rrnrrrx:
  :         -  &&&&&&r^&&&&&&&  __//        rrrxn    ^
 :        R-    &&&&^r&&&&&&&__/^^ |      nx         ^
 :             &&&&&r&&&____/^^^  /      rr   n     ^
:                &&&r&_/^^^^^     \xr rrr     A    ^
:               &&&r_/^^x         { }r            ^
 :                r/^^           {   }rr         ^
 :^            rrx/^             {__} \_rr       ^
 ^^     rrrrrrr ./^               |     \_r     ^
^^^    r ......: ^                R\     x{}    ^
^^^^  x.:        :                 /     r     ^
^^^^^ :          :       A         \     r    ^
^^^^^^          .:                  \    r   ^
 ^^^^      ....:x                   /    r  ^
  ^^^^    ^^  rr                    \  .x.^^
   ^^^^ ^^^^^r     R                 \.:
         ^^^^r         ..x        ...:
          ^^....     .:  :.......:
               :....:

Colors and offset squares do wonders for a map!

Then, the (albeit impressive) map went into a spreadsheet, each square into its own field. A little bit of magic, and you end up with the image to the right (and yes, that's a screenshot from Excel. I told you it was magic!).

Starting to look like a map, doesn't it? I moved a few characters around, and added a function to make it a bit longer - fixed-width fonts are something like 12 pixels wide and 15 pixels tall, so the squares, well, aren't. Hexes are not quite as tall as they are wide, either; I built that into my functions, too.

Finally, it goes into its final form - in this case, the free version of Hexographer. I used a screenshot of the spreadsheet map as an overlay, and painstakingly copied the terrain. I again moved a few squares - hexes, now - around a bit, just to make it flow better. Finally, after quite a bit of time, I reached the final version of the map.

Now with islands!

With some smoothing, additional details, better roads and rivers, and a whole lot of tweaking to makes forests, jungles, and so on all line up, the map turned out quite well, if I do say so myself! Capitals, cities, towers, even the wall are all clearly there.

Of course, this is just a map; that's only a fraction of my ramblings. Maps are fun, but making up stories is even better!