Map Crazy
By Dwip December 19, 2011, 10:14 pm Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

As a partial explanation to my players for why we’ve been playing so much Mechwarrior lately, and partially because if I don’t talk about this I’m not going to have any posts in December at all, let us briefly talk about mapping in the Forgotten Realms.

If you’ve been reading this blog or playing in my games long enough, it should be no secret to you that I really like making maps, and that I really like Profantasy’s Campaign Cartographer suite for doing so. I’ve gotten a lot of milage out of it over the years, and it gives me some really cool results:

They also put out a very nice program that I was really excited about in 1999 called the Forgotten Realms Interactive Atlas, which has most but not all of the maps ever published for the setting, which is several hundred.

There’s only three problems with it:

1. 1999 was in the graphical stone age, and man do those maps look it;

2. 1999 was like 20 sourcebooks ago;

3. There are some really baffling cutoffs and missing maps. Did you want a map of Calimshan? Sorry. Did you want a detailed map of the entire Sea of Fallen Stars region because your next game, revolving around pirates and privateers, is set there? Sucks to be you.

Fortunately, we have a solution, which I will discuss after the jump:

So, the usual process for doing up a regional map goes pretty much like this:

1. Take an FR poster map, which is roughly the size of 2×4 letter sized sheets of paper, and scan it;
2. Using your favorite image editing software, create a composite image of the entire map;
3. If your region involves multiple poster maps, weep like a baby, because this is going to suck;
4. Start up a new CC3 file with roughly the dimensions of your region;
5. Import the jpg (used to be bmp, and that hurt a lot) into CC3 and play with the scale until 1″ = 30 miles is actually true;
6. Go layer by layer, feature by feature, and digitally recreate the map. Takes for bloody ever, but looks rad when you finish;
7. Profit.

That’s pretty much how I did that Vilhon Reach map you see above.

Why did I take the trouble? Well, a few things, which I will now list because I like lists and by the end of this so will you:

1. I can add and subtract things from digital maps in a way I just can’t with a paper map, and when you’re dealing with “I need a new village for the adventure” and “there’s a cave over here” this turns out to matter;

2. Most of my paper maps are huge, made out of paper that’s 20 years old, and cost $30 to buy a new set. Printing a new copy of a digital map is basically free, and I can do it for each player if I need to;

3. Given a computer, I can basically track distances and the like in seconds, which matters a lot for travel times, etc.

So far so good, but there’s a problem, which is that TSR maps aren’t entirely consistant with themselves. The maps in the FR Campaign Setting don’t necessarily agree with the Vilhon Reach map, and the maps from FR6 Dreams of the Red Wizards/Spellbound literally don’t agree with anything. And that’s before you get into the 3e maps. As I say, I need a composite Sea of Fallen Stars map, and this kind of detail turns out to actually matter (and me and my OCD like accurate maps), so something’s got to get done about that.

Insert some boredom, a couple of years, and a very large sourcebook collection, and you wind up with this:

What you’re looking at there is the very small version of what exists elsewhere as a 157 MB GIMP .xcf file with a couple dozen layers that’s 9,150 x 6,000 pixels large (shrunk to about 32% from scans) covering the entirity of Faerun outside Maztica, with added detail from every single map I could lay my hands on.

That outlined bit kind of in the middle? That’s the Sea of Fallen Stars. Here’s a better look:

That’s a composite that started out with the 90 mile maps from the CS, added detail from various 30 mile maps (FR6, FR9, FR13, Cormyr, The Vilhon Reach, Spellbound, The Dalelands, The Moonsea, The Horde, Lands of Intrigue, and a few I’m probably forgetting), most of which is pasted in (the funny bits with the dark blue ocean and the odd trees), with some more stuff simply drawn in when necessary (various pink lines). You can kind of see where I’ve begun the digitization process – the medium blue lakes are done in CC3, and the black outlines around things are CC3 shapes that will eventually be more of the same.

Ultimately, we’re going to wind up with something that looks like the Vilhon Reach map for my use, and something a little more Olde Tymes and nautical for the players. We’re a ways out from that yet.

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